Hydro-Québec research project looks at how trees and electrical lines can co-exist

A team of researchers at UQAM have partnered with Hydro Quebec for a pilot project that looks at how trees and electric lines can co-exist.

Researchers examine six species of trees to find out which will grow around electric lines

Christian Messier, a professor at UQAM, is leading the research project based out of Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville. (CBC)

This year, Hydro-Québec spent $90 million repairing electric lines damaged by vegetation.

According to Cendrix Bouchard, a spokesperson for Hydro-Québec, around 40 per cent of all the outages in the province are caused by fallen branches or trees.

"If you look at a heavily forested area, it can be up to 70 per cent of the outages," he added.

That's where Christian Messier, a professor in Biological Sciences at L'Université du Québec à Montréal comes in.

Messier is leading a pilot project in Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville — across from the Hydro-Québec office — that looks at how trees can co-exist with electrical lines.

"We want to [be able to] to plant more trees in the cities," Messier explained. "So, the project is to look at what we can do early on, when we plant trees [...] to make the tree grow naturally away from the electrical line."

The goal is to reduce the need for tree pruning, which can deform the tree, and integrate different species within the city.

"We want to diversify the number of species we plant in the inner city," said Messier. 

For the project, there are six species of trees being examined.

Each tree in the study is tagged to indicate the species and what kind of intervention that tree will receive.

The different options include yearly pruning, a metal object that will guide the branches laterally and a sort of "hat" or canopy that will create shade and influence the tree's growth.

Cendrix Bouchard, a spokesperson for Hydro-Québec, says he's hoping the research project will be a win-win for everyone. (CBC)

"If we can actually work with nature, as opposed to against it, then everybody benefits," said Bouchard.

Fallen trees, branches a main cause of outages 

Roughly 40 per cent of power outages in the province are caused by fallen vegetation.

The company spends millions on repairing damaged electrical wires and pruning trees which grow too close to power lines.

Bouchard told CBC there are also a limited amount of qualified workers to do the annual pruning. He's hoping this project will be a win for everyone.

"We have people on the ground every year to control vegetation the best we can. We do a lot of tree pruning, but we can only do so much."

The project is expected to last 15 years and will focus on an estimated 540 trees planted in the South Shore man-made forest.