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Real estate and right-of-way

What is a right-of-way?

An electric transmission line right-of-way is a strip of land that we use to construct, operate, maintain and repair our transmission line facilities. A transmission line usually is centered in the right-of-way. The width of a right-of-way depends on the voltage of the line and the height of the structures, but can be 75 to 150 feet or more depending on the type of facilities planned for or located on the right-of-way. The right-of-way generally must be clear of trees, vegetation and structures that could interfere with a power line. Learn more about vegetation management on our rights-of-way.

What is an easement?

An easement is an interest in real property that gives ATC the legal right to use the property for the specific purpose of constructing, operating and maintaining a transmission line facility. When building or upgrading a power line, we typically acquire access to and use of land by purchasing easments from property owners, rather than purchasing the property outright. Landowners are compensasted for easements through a payment based on statutory guidelines. Landowners retain ownership of the real property, but its use is limited to activities that do not compromise the safety and reliability of the lines.

How is an easement negotiated/acquired?

When we construct or upgrade a transmission line that requires the use of a landowner’s property, we must meet certain requirements when seeking to acquire an easement for the right-of-way. Easement negotiations begin after a project has been approved and ordered by the Public Service Commission. One of our real estate agents will negotiate with property owners based on the fair market value of the property needed for the right-of-way. We discuss the easement rights and specifics of the project including:

  • the length and width of the right-of-way,
  • the number of structures,
  • the height and design of the structures,
  • the height, number and voltage of the wires,
  • right-of-way clearing and construction practices,
  • the project schedule,
  • post-construction maintenance and right-of-way access, and
  • the use of herbicidal chemicals to control weeds and brush.

In addition to compensation for the easement, we will pay for any crop damage and/or physical damage to property resulting from the construction and/or maintenance of the transmission line.

I’ve been contacted by an appraiser who claims he can get me a better offer if we go to court.

ATC is required by law to justly compensate landowners for actual damages to the fair market value of properties on which easements are placed. We hire experienced, qualified appraisers to compare the fair market value of each property before and after construction of the transmission line. Sometimes, we will obtain multiple appraisals to ensure just compensation is paid. Landowners also are entitled to obtain a full narrative appraisal at our expense, so long as a copy of that appraisal is provided to ATC within 60 days.

Some appraisers and attorneys have collaborated to target our new construction projects, contacting landowners and discouraging them from negotiating with us. These appraisers often produce inflated appraisals, claim to specialize in litigation, and offer to defend their inflated opinions in court for high hourly fees. 

Recently, landowners who have gone to court based on such appraisals have recovered far less than what was expressed in the appraiser’s opinion. Juries have even awarded landowners less than ATC’s original offer, saddling the landowners with expert witness and attorney’s fees that may exceed the amount of the jury award.

We respect the rights of landowners to work with professionals of their choosing. If you are contacted by an appraiser, we urge you to confirm that your professional is familiar with the peer-reviewed published research on the effect of transmission lines on property values, and is applying that research in your appraisal. Also, ask the appraiser what current real estate and appraisal-related licenses and certifications he or she holds.

Can you recommend an appraiser?

No, but the American Society of Appraisers and the Appraisal Institute have search functions at their websites to help you find a qualified appraiser.

Rights and responsibilities

For more information about the laws and regulations governing easement acquisition and negotiations in Wisconsin, download Right-of-Way and Easements for Electric Facility Construction published by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin.

Will ATC notify property owners when maintenance work is planned on an existing right-of-way?

It is our practice to notify property owners when we plan to clear trees, inspect transmission line equipment or perform other maintenance activities on our rights-of-way. This notification may be in the form of a letter, postcard, door hanger or phone call. All employees and contractors carry identification. If you have any questions or concerns about the presence of individuals doing work within the right-of-way, please contact us at 888-713-3227. Use this number, or call your local law enforcement agency to report any suspicious individuals or activities you may observe in the vicinity of transmission lines

Does a power line’s presence impact the use of the property?

While many land uses that do not interfere with power lines are allowed, including farming, grazing, gardening, hunting, biking, hiking, and snowmobiling, some uses are restricted. Structures and occupied dwellings are not permitted, nor are tall-growing trees and some other types of vegetation. Easement agreements allow ATC to trim and remove trees and vegetation from the easement area.

Do power lines have a significant impact on farm operations?

Farming is a permitted activity under power lines. The State of Wisconsin’s Farmland Preservation Program recognizes transmission lines as consistent with agricultural use of the land. When routing and siting transmission lines, the facilities are typically placed along roads, property lines or section lines to minimize effects on current and potential future use of the property. Easements contain requirements for safe operation of irrigation and other equipment near power lines.

Click here to download a brochure that addresses commonly asked questions related to land use around transmission facilities.

Click here for information on property values and impacts.

Please contact us at localrelations@atcllc.com whenever you have land use or right-of-way maintenance questions.