Any electric transmission line above a certain voltage size (69,000 volts, also referred to as 69 kilovolts or 69 kV) that is located outside of a city must have a franchise from the Iowa Utilities Board before it can be built. The process the Board uses to consider whether to issue a franchise for a proposed line can be described as follows:
1. Informational meetings. If the proposed line will cross one mile or more of privately-owned land, then the first step in the process is an informational meeting in each affected county. At these meetings the project, the franchise process, and the legal rights of landowners will be explained.
- The company that proposes to build the line must give notice to all persons with an ownership interest in land that might be affected by the line.
- The meeting will be held in a public location that is accessible to all. When multiple meetings are being held, they are usually scheduled to provide the public with a choice of times.
- A representative of the Board will attend the meeting and present a summary of the legal rights of the landowners who may be affected by the line. [see Informational Meeting Handout]
- A company representative will explain the proposed project.
- By law, the company cannot begin negotiating with landowners for right-of-way (easements) for the proposed line until after this meeting.
- By law, the company cannot file a petition for franchise with the Board until at least 30 days after this meeting.
- The informational meeting is not a hearing. No record is made and no evidence is received. The purpose of the meeting is only to provide the public and landowners with information about the proposed transmission line and their rights.
2. Petition for franchise. Not less than 30 days after the informational meeting, the company may file with the Board a petition for a franchise for the proposed line. Once the petition is filed and if it is substantially complete, then there are two possible paths for the proceeding.
- If no objections are on file and the petition does not ask for the power of eminent domain, then a notice is published two times in a newspaper of general circulation in the affected county. If no objections are filed within 20 days of the second publication, the franchise may be granted without a hearing.
- If objections are on file or eminent domain authority is requested, a hearing must be held. Notice of the hearing will be mailed to objectors and owners of affected property. Notice will also be published.
3. Hearing. When a proposed line is greater than one mile long, the hearing must be held in the county seat of the county that is located at the midpoint of the proposed line. (If the line is shorter than one mile, the hearing can be held at the Board’s offices in Des Moines.)
- The Board or an administrative law judge will preside at the hearing.
- At the hearing, all parties may present evidence and testimony in support of or opposition to the electric line.
- Ultimately, the Board will decide whether the proposed line is necessary to serve a public use, represents a reasonable relationship to an overall plan of transmitting electricity in the public interest, complies with routing and engineering standards, and meets all other legal requirements.
- If the company requests the right of eminent domain, the Board will also decide whether to grant that right. All parties may present evidence and testimony concerning eminent domain at the hearing.
- At the hearing, the Board (or the administrative law judge) is not the advocate for any other particular party; the agency is neutral. If you believe you need to be represented at the hearing, you should consult with your own lawyer.
- When the Board makes its final decision in the case, any party may file for judicial review of the decision in District Court.
In order to construct a transmission line on private property, the company must obtain necessary rights from the owner of the land, typically by means of an easement. An easement may be voluntary or, in some cases, it may be obtained through condemnation (also known as the power of eminent domain).
The company cannot begin to negotiate with landowners for easements until after the informational meeting. The Board does not supervise or control negotiations for the purchase of voluntary easements. After the informational meeting is held, the company and the landowners are free to negotiate.
If the company cannot obtain voluntary easements for the entire line, it may ask the Board for the authority to take those rights through condemnation. Under federal and state law, private property cannot be taken for public use without 1) a demonstrated public purpose and (2) just compensation to the owner. Under Iowa law, the Utilities Board will determine whether a company has shown a need to serve a public use, but the Utilities Board will not determine the question of just compensation. If condemnation is necessary, then the question of compensation will be determined in an entirely separate proceeding by a Compensation Commission appointed for each county under Iowa Code chapter 6B.