What Should I Know About the Power Lines Over My Property?

A female farmer working on crops in the field with transmission lines in the background.
Almost every residence or business in North Carolina gets its power through a line either buried under or hung above their property. There are many misconceptions about what property owners are responsible for, what utility companies are responsible for, and who owns what when it comes to an easement for power lines.

Power line easements, like all utility company easements, can be complicated, and property owners should be aware of their rights and duties, and the issues that may arise. Here are some answers to common electric company easement questions.

Does the Utility Company Already Have an Easement on My Property?

Yes, most likely. The power company and utilities have permission to enter your property and maintain their equipment if necessary. For example, the power company has the right to enter your property to read the power meter and maintain its power lines.

But what if the utility company’s intrusion onto your property is much greater than that? In order to understand power line easements, we need to dive a little deeper. There are two main types of power lines, and there are different types of easements.

Transmission Lines and Power Line Easement Rights on Your Property

The first basic type of power line is a transmission line. These are the big towers that carry the high voltage power lines across the state. Transmission lines are built on right-of-way easements. In other words, the power company has the right of way above all other users of the land, including the owner.

Rows of large transmission lines over farm land.
That’s right, most of the time, utility companies don’t own the land. An easement is a non-possessory interest. But a right-of-way easement gives them broad power to control how the land is used within their easement. Here’s an example of the limitations Duke Energy places on land usage in its rights-of-way. In general, transmission easements:

  • Limit what you can build and where a permanent structure can be built
  • Limit or change natural features on your property such as trees or water features
  • Control how the property can be traversed or accessed
  • Set criteria for how the property can be fenced
  • Enable 24/7 access to the property for maintenance
  • Enable future uses of the property within the easement that may disrupt your enjoyment

Essentially, with a right-of-way easement, you retain ownership of the property (and pay property taxes on it, too). But the utility holding the power line easement rights controls what can be done within the right of way.

Distribution Lines and Power Line Easements on Your Property

The second type of power line is a distribution line. The power poles you see along the streets in many neighborhoods are distribution lines, though they can be underground. Distribution lines are also under a right of way, though it may be an easement, a written agreement, or a permit. Distribution rights of way are generally not as large as transmission line rights of way.

Power lines against a cloudy sky near a forested area.
Still, the power company has a great deal of control. Duke Energy, for example, typically has 15 feet on either side of the line as a distribution right of way. Within that right of way, they can manage their lines and anything that may threaten it – mostly referring to trees. Even if the tree is on your property, branches encroaching on the right of way can be removed.

If the tree on your property is leaning toward or threatening the lines, it may also be removed. The power company does not have to ask.

Transformer box in a residential neighborhood, surrounded by fall leaves.What About That Big Metal Box in My Yard?

That big metal box is likely a pad-mounted transformer if it belongs to the power company. They have the right to access that box, and if you’ve got anything planted that blocks access to it, the power company can remove it and does not have to replace it. Duke Energy recommends planting nothing but grass within ten feet of the opening side.

How Are New Power Line Easements Created?

Like any other easement, power line easements are created when space is needed for them. It’s more complicated than this, but here is the simple version:

  • The power company analyzes power needs, and finds that new lines are necessary.
  • It determines the most efficient way to construct them.
  • Property owners are alerted.
  • Takings are filed if agreements aren’t reached

It’s important to remember that if the power company has an existing easement, they need not notify property owners of their intent to use it, even if that use might be disruptive. Remember: easements are often worded vaguely which can result in the easement being overly broad.

Can You Fight a Power Line Easement?

Eminent domain is granted by the 5th Amendment and by NC statutes. Because the government has shared some of its rights with utility companies “for the greater good,” fighting a new easement is a difficult proposition. An eminent domain lawyer can evaluate the circumstances and help you understand your options.

An existing easement is very difficult to alter, as the power company will defend its easement vigorously. It may have hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment within the easement, and that may cost even more to move should the easement be lost. In our experience, many property owners are best served focusing their efforts on seeking maximum compensation.

Can You Receive Compensation for a Power Line Easement?

If the power company wants a new easement, they have the power of eminent domain to take one. You have the right to power line easement compensation, but you often must fight for maximum compensation.

Easements are very tricky in eminent domain because they deal not with the entire property but with property rights. Easement agreements can very subtly take far more control of your property than you think. Before agreeing to an easement or accepting payment, contact our experienced eminent domain attorneys.

In seeking compensation on your behalf, your attorney will consider the effects of the power line easement on your surrounding land, possibly including:

  • Loss of productivity – Buried lines may prevent farming, and easements may prevent irrigation measures.
  • Soil irregularities – Grading for the construction of the power lines may alter the lay of the land and how water drains; the power company may strictly regulate how the land can be graded once it has an easement.
  • Damage to the remaining land – The easement may prevent the remaining land from fulfilling its highest and best use. Installation and maintenance of the lines may result in damage to the surrounding land.
  • Loss of value – When people buy a property, they want the right to use it as they see fit. Properties with easements may be less valuable to prospective buyers and take longer to sell.

How Long Do Power Company Easements Last?

Once the power company has an easement on a property, they can exercise their rights over the property indefinitely. Easements “travel with the land” – they’re part of the property and remain in effect even if the property changes owners. Note: If you already received compensation for the easement, or if a previous owner did, you won’t be paid again.

Can You Terminate a Power Line Easement on Your Property?

Once an easement exists, unless specified in the agreement, it is permanent and will run with the land indefinitely. In rare cases, the power company may abandon the easement, which would return the rights to the owner of the property.

However, it is important to note that easements are often planned well ahead of time, and there may be no activity on them for long periods of time. As homeowners in North Carolina recently found, an unknown easement could jeopardize anything built within its boundaries – even homes.

 Do I Need an Attorney to Negotiate Power Line Easement Compensation?

Technically, you do not need an attorney to negotiate compensation for a power line easement. However, in practice, it is far more advantageous to have an experienced eminent domain attorney working for you. Before you sign anything or accept any compensation for a power line easement, contact us. We have:

  • 100+ years combined experience in the law and the processes involved in eminent domain takings
  • Several former NCDOT attorneys practicing nothing but eminent domain law
  • Hundreds of skilled professionals in our network to help us discover, verify, and fight for maximum value for our clients

Since we’ve been in business, we’ve increased the offers to our clients by more than 197% on average.1 Furthermore, we only collect our fee if we successfully collect for you. Our fee comes only from the amount which we were able to increase the original offer from the utility company.

Whatever the power company originally offered you will be yours to keep – we won’t touch a dime. And if we fail to increase your initial offer, you owe us nothing. Guaranteed.

Contact the NC Eminent Domain Law Firm Any Time, 24/7

Call us at 1-877-393-4990, chat with us, or contact us online. We’ll evaluate your case for free. You pay nothing out of pocket, so don’t hesitate!