Who Owns the Land Under Power Lines?
In situations where a utility company has power lines or utility boxes on private and public property, concerns can arise with regard to utility line clearance. While the land underneath the power lines remains tied to an easement, the vegetation surrounding utility company equipment can pose hazards for accessibility, fire risk and outages.

Landowners often fall subject to protections attributable to the best interest of power companies, which usually means that the responsibility for vegetation management falls on the utility company. The power company's ability to properly implement a maintenance plan is a key to minimizing issues between power companies and local communities across America.

What is an Easement?


When engaged in distribution line construction or transmission line construction, it’s crucial to understand the definition of an easement.

An easement agreement protects the power company's ability to access critical equipment. It is designed to respect the mutually aligned interests of the landowner or the public and the utility company. It generally allows the utility company to gain direct access to its equipment or assets in order to implement a proper vegetation management plan


“Run with the land” is another phrase you will hear in connection with an easement or right-of-way agreement. “Run with the land” implies that the rights will remain active through any ownership changes. For utility companies, this means legal protection to service grid infrastructure such as power lines or utility boxes as they see fit.


Easement agreements impact every landowner and the public in a given location for the lifetime of the deal. Landowners retain the right of use to the land through these agreements, as long it doesn’t interfere with the utility company's immediate access. However, increased safety concerns have raised further conversations about equipment maintenance and upkeep surrounding power lines and utility boxes and their impact on communities.


Obligations of the Utility Company

Easements are typically created at the time property lines are drawn, although they may be added later using a contract. A property owner may be able to terminate the contract if they can prove that a utility company has misused the easement.


In some, but not all cases, a utility company must attempt to notify the property owner before entering a property. Emergencies supersede this requirement. In turn, the property owner has certain obligations like not building any permanent structure on an easement.

Power Lines and Community Safety


Utility companies are liable for mishaps, outages and maintenance issues. For instance, aerial placers and tree trimming near power lines raise the risk of injury and liabilities for damages. Events such as the 2007 Rice Fire and the 2018 Camp Fire led to increased preventative measures required in the interest of public safety.

To meet requirements, utility companies need line maintenance on both distribution and transmission lines. Active maintenance includes programs such as pole replacements, reconductoring, equipment upgrades, hazard tree removal, line clearance, herbicide application, and mowing. Particularly for transmission lines, these programs are designed to help meet the NERC (North American Electric Reliability Corporation) reliability standards.

Importance of Utility Vegetation Management Around Power Lines


Utility companies work with the federal government's cabinet-level agencies, such as transportation departments, as well as local governments, to develop long-term resource management plans that include vegetation management programs.


Particularly relating to transmission line vegetation management, these plans include regularly scheduled inspections to monitor growth and anticipate changes in vegetation based on the seasons and the passage of time. Utilities then contract with vegetation management companies to proactively schedule trimming, removals and herbicide applications, while also responding to more urgent matters, such as emergency storm response, as they arise.


As important as line clearance is under transmission lines, the same principles apply to distribution lines. In fact, vegetation management standards around distribution lines continue to become more stringent as utilities strive to harden their entire infrastructure and reduce or eliminate outages across their entire systems.

The Future of Utility Safety Standards

Utility company safety standards will likely continue to change in response to weather threats, public scrutiny and safety concerns. As conditions change over time, and ownership passes to new generations, conservation easement contracts will continue to evolve.


NG Gilbert places safety at the forefront of its line construction and line clearance work. We partner with utility companies to create comprehensive management plans, accounting for easements and rights of way, in order to protect equipment as well as worker safety and the safety of property owners.