Fiber optic lines expose grid companies to class action lawsuits.
Arnold Tesh, CRE, FRICS, is a senior vice president with FTI Consulting Inc. in Washington, D.C. Deborah Haskell, CRE, FRICS, MAI, is a managing director with FTI Consulting.
One of the trickiest issues confronting the electric transmission industry today is the controversy over who owns the transmission corridors that traverse the United States. Property owners are banding together and filing class-action lawsuits against utility companies they perceive as having usurped property rights without compensation.
This controversy arises from changes in technology, and the debate is being driven by certain misconceptions about the laws and policies affecting utility rights of way.
Utility companies supply electricity to residential, commercial and industrial customers throughout North America using transmission corridors that connect with vast distribution networks. The companies assembled these corridors years ago by negotiating easement agreements with millions of property owners that, in effect, granted them the right to conduct business on the owner’s property. To be more precise, these agreements were designed to entitle the electric company to transmit over, under, or through someone else’s fee ownership. Once the corridors were assembled, utilities incurred substantial costs to construct electrical lines and other necessary equipment and structures on the easements to enable them to transmit electric current from the points of generation to locations for distribution.