Xcel Energy and ITC Midwest LLC have proposed to build an approximately fifty (50) mile, 345 kilovolt (kV) transmission line near the Minnesota-Iowa border. This endeavor is known as the Huntley-Wilmarth transmission line project. The transmission line intends to connect Excel Energy’s Huntley substation, located north of Mankato, with ITC’s Wilmarth substation, located south of Winnebago. The line will span across Blue Earth, Fairbault, Nicollet, and Martin counties.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (Commission) requires the Huntley-Wilmarth project to obtain two approvals: (1) a Certificate of Need and (2) a Route Permit. Applications were filed in January of 2018. The Commission acknowledged the applications’ completion with a vote in March of 2018. Notice of the applications’ filings were sent to landowners and advertisements were placed in local newspapers.
After considering the merits of the Huntley-Wilmarth project, the Commission will decide whether construction may proceed within the first half of 2019. In the meantime, the second half of 2018 presents opportunities for you, as a landowner, to provide your opinion on the project. Public hearings will be held and a comment period will commence. At Rinke Noonan, we encourage you to make your voice heard and express your thoughts on the project, positive or negative.
The Huntley-Wilmarth website provides project maps that detail the proposed route of the electrical transmission line. As a landowner, we encourage you to identify whether your land is in the path of the proposed route. If it is, your land will become the subject of a government taking. It is crucial you consult with an attorney to protect your rights. The government will offer you a monetary amount in exchange for your signature, which has the effect of allowing the government to construct the electrical transmission line across your property.
It seems likely the project will obtain the approval of the commission. The construction of a high voltage transmission line is labor intensive and requires the use of heavy machinery. Subject lands must be cleared of all obstacles, including trees. After the land has been cleared, the construction phase will commence. Initially, this will require using huge drills or other auger machinery to create the necessary holes. Soils will be hauled, bulldozers will level the construction area, backhoes and trucks will haul in the necessary construction materials, and your land will be brimming with workers of all sorts.
The construction of poles will require multiple electrical line construction crews, support trucks, and other equipment. Heavy trucks will be needed to haul pole sections, cranes, and stringer machinery. Linesmen crews will be responsible for stringing and splicing the necessary wires. Once construction is complete, the clean-up period will begin. This requires the removal of previously laid construction matting, as well as restoration of the work area. Bulldozers will be responsible for pulling rippers to break up the soil compaction. In general, construction activity creates many nuisances for affected landowners. These include the influx of dust, dirt, noise, and also infringes on your ability to enjoy the use of your land. All of this interfering activity will have an effect on the value of your land. As a landowner, you have the right to be compensated for such economic impact.
In order to determine how much compensation you should be entitled to, we must determine the value of your property before the project was approved, as well as the value of your property after the project was approved. The logical question, then, is “how would a potential buyer react to purchasing a property subject to such a project?” It may be obvious, but more often than not, the approval of a disruptive project such as the proposed Huntley-Wilmarth high voltage electrical transmission line will typically have a negative effect on the value of affected property. If you are an affected landowner, you should expect the project will have a negative effect on the value of your property.
Several factors affect the impact of the high voltage electrical transmission line on the value of your property. First, the location of the line is important. A line that runs diagonally across your property will have the most severe impact on your property’s value. If the line splits your property in two, either from north-to-south or east-to-west, the effect will also be severe, albeit less so than if the line split your property diagonally. If the line runs across the front boundary of your land, the impact will be less severe than if the line ran diagonally or from north-to-south or east-to-west. Nonetheless, a front location is disruptive for agricultural purposes. A front location is also burdensome as the property owner must travel underneath the line every time the owner enters or leaves the property. A less severe line location would be at the back of the property, on the fence line. This location would most likely ensure the poles were not placed directly in the center of the property. Aesthetically, this location is also preferable. Finally, the most preferable location would be a corner nip, meaning the line slightly intrudes upon a corner of your property. This location often ensures the poles themselves are not located anywhere on your property. Health and land use concerns are the least severe at this location.
The size of the electric line is also important. Although an average buyer can rarely distinguish between a 345 kV, a 230kV, or a 161 kV line, most buyers can distinguish between lines that are large, medium, or small. The size of the proposed line is 345 kV, making it fairly large. These observations of the size of the line correlates to the perceived health and safety effects presented by the line. The height and circumference of the pole also affects property values. The taller the height and larger the circumference, the more severe the effect will be.
The location of the poles on your property may interfere with preexisting irrigation systems. The interference would require reprograming of the pivot operations, or worse, replacement of the entire system. If the pivot system is rendered useless, the land may be forced to revert to non-irrigated status. That would reduce the value of your property. USDA records indicate that irrigated property is substantially more valuable than non-irrigated property.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that many farmers have experienced malfunctions of GPS systems when operating agricultural machinery in close proximity to high voltage electrical transmission lines. This evidence causes the perception that these lines and GPS systems cannot effectively coexist with one another. In turn, many people view properties located in the vicinity of these lines to be less desirable.
High voltage electrical transmission lines present aerial spray pilots with a dilemma. These pilots want to get as low as they can before releasing chemicals. The goal is to reduce waste and ensure accuracy. These lines are approximately 20 feet above ground at their lowest point. These pilots fly at a speed of approximately 140 miles-per-hour. These lines present great danger to pilots. Therefore, aerial spraying of fields in the vicinity of these lines is often avoided due to the pilots own concerns and the concerns of their insurance companies. Substantial land areas often cannot be serviced by air. This in turn requires many farmers to use mechanical spraying, which is less effective and more costly.
There is also a huge concern surrounding electrical shocks. Unlike residential wiring, these lines are not insulated. In the case of high voltage lines, electricity can arc across an air gap. This means a person does not need to make actual contact with the line to be electrocuted. Additionally, a vehicle parked underneath an electric line can collect voltage. The only way to prevent a shock is to park your vehicle away from the line.
The use of heavy machinery on your property across an extended period of time may lead to soil compaction. Compacted soil will not drain properly and will absorb moisture inefficiently. Plants struggle to grow on compacted soil, as they develop shallow roots. These plants are susceptible to drought-like symptoms even though there is sufficient ground moisture. They will experience stunted growth and will not mature at the same rate as those plants situated on non-compacted soil. Alleviating soil compaction requires the advice of a soil specialist, who often recommends a deep plow technique to loosen the soil.
In sum, we realize you have just been exposed to a lot of information that may be particularly troubling. At Rinke Noonan, we have experienced takings attorneys that are available to provide you with advice on your individual concerns. We hope this information has been beneficial. Please feel free to contact us at any time.
By Nick Delaney, Adam Ripple, Igor Lenzner and Luke Belflower
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