County: Vegetation Near Transformers Causes Problems

Department of Public Utilities Electric Distribution crews will be identifying transformer boxes in the County without adequate space for safe access. They will leave doorhangers for the property owners to inform them of the situation. Photo Courtesy DPU


Many county residents have large metal boxes, or cabinets, on their properties with transformers fed by 13,600 volts of electricity locked inside. Electric Distribution crews from the Los Alamos Department of Public Utilities (DPU) are assessing the surroundings of these boxes throughout the townsite and White Rock to make sure they are safe for residents and accessible for linemen.

To work on the transformers safely, electric linemen need at least 8 feet of clearance in front and 3 feet on the other three sides to open the boxes and access the equipment inside. When shrubbery or trees are planted too close to the green or tan boxes, it creates problems for the crews.

“A lot of people plant shrubs or trees around the transformer boxes to hide them or make them blend in with the landscape,” said DPU Electrical Engineering Manager Stephen Marez. “If our linemen can’t open a transformer box because a tree has been planted in front of it, that’s a big problem.”

One transformer feeds the electric service for several homes. If power is out for those homes and electric crews need to access the transformer to restore it, a tree in front of the box can make for a slow, difficult repair. That tree not only presents a safety issue for DPU staff working on the transformer, but it may also be dangerous for anyone who tries to remove it.

“Tree roots will grow around underground power lines so we never want our customers to try to transplant trees that have been planted too close to transformer boxes,” Marez said. “This is a good example of why we remind residents to call for locates before they dig in their yards.”

DPU’s linemen will be leaving doorhangers at properties that have vegetation or other landscaping too close to transformer boxes. The doorhangers will let the property owners know if they need to act or if their trees will be cut down by DPU. Even when situated on private property, all transformer boxes are on county electric easements.

For clarification, there are different types of green boxes that protect wiring and equipment outdoors. The transformer boxes are about 2 feet by 2 feet and varying heights. Narrower boxes that are about 8 inches by 8 inches are power pedestals, not transformer boxes. While power pedestals may also enclose electrical equipment, they don’t require as much clearance as transformer boxes. There are also pedestals that enclose phone wiring. The sticker on the outside of the box indicates what is enclosed.

When planting trees or shrubs, call for locates by dialing 811 first even if a transformer is not in the area.  Call NM811 at least two days before digging to initiate the process of locating and marking the underground utility lines at your property. You can also submit a locate request online at Click on “I’m About to Dig.”