Right of way vegetation maintenance
Frequently Asked Questions
These questions are general in nature, designed to increase the landowners’ knowledge of their easements. TVA has purchased similar rights on most easements, following the general guidelines below. For specific questions, refer to the TVA transmission line easement grant on your property, or contact the TVA Transmission Right of Way Sector Forester for your area.
1. Have your policies changed for maintaining TVA rights of way?
In 2003, the northeast area of the United States suffered a devastating failure of the electrical infrastructure supporting it. The After Action Review (AAR) of the event showed that although there were some mechanical equipment failures, the larger, more dangerous failures were from vegetation in the right of way. These vegetative failures are not 100 percent preventable, but to minimize their affects we use the guidelines specified below.
2. How wide are TVA’s transmission line rights of way?
Most TVA transmission line rights of way are 75 to 200 feet wide. Rights of way for multiple transmission lines are generally wider. In instances where a TVA transmission line is located near a property line, a portion of the width of the right of way may be on an adjacent property. Existing transmission lines are usually, but not always, located at the center of the right of way.
3. Standard right of way Widths
Of TVA’s 15,900 miles of transmission line, about 13,000 are 161-kilovolts (kV) or higher. Although right of way widths can vary, generally:
- 500-kV lines with two underbuilds commonly use a 200-foot right of way. (Underbuilds are transmission lines built under existing lines, using existing poles or structures as support.)
- 500-kV lines with a single underbuild commonly use a 175- to 200-foot right of way.
- 230-kV lines commonly use a 150-foot right of way.
- 161-kV single- or double-circuit lines commonly use a 150-foot right of way.
- 69-kV single-steel-pole lines commonly use a 75-foot right of way.
4. How can I find out the width of a TVA transmission line right of way on my property?
You can determine the width of the right of way from the easement document that is recorded in the county where your property is located. Most of the easements and rights of way for TVA’s transmission lines were acquired in the name of the United States and are entrusted to TVA. Older easements and rights of way may have been acquired by TVA’s predecessors and later transferred to the federal government for TVA’s use.
A property survey that you may have obtained when you bought your property also may show the width of the right of way; however, the easement document is the legally binding one. The easement document is based on the property boundaries as they existed at the time the document was signed, not where the property lines are now.
5. Will my deed show TVA easement?
The legal requirement for the sale of property requires a 35-year title search. TVA began purchasing easements in 1933. If you are about to purchase property near a transmission line, you should require a complete title search of at least 100 years. If a title search was not performed, you or your representative (surveyor or attorney) should search courthouse records. Contact the TVA Transmission Right of Way Regional Forester for your area if the search does not reveal any records for the transmission line on your property.
6. Can I plant and grow trees on the transmission line right of way?
When evaluating your current vegetation and before planting anything in a right of way, consult this list of suggested low-growing trees and shrubs that may be compatible with certain areas of the right of way. Just remember that even if a particular tree or shrub is on the list, it might still be a problem if it is planted in the wrong place. That's why it's a good idea to always call your TVA Transmission Right of Way Sector Forester before planting anything. TVA's forester's can help you make good choices that will enhance the beauty of your property without endangering the reliable power you and others depend on.
7. Does TVA have any responsibility for keeping its rights of way mowed and maintained?
Landowners are responsible for complying with city, county, and subdivision regulations regarding maintenance of their land, including that within a right of way. TVA has the perpetual right under most easement documents to clear rights of way and keep them clear of trees, brush, buildings, structures and fire hazards. These rights were acquired only to allow for the construction, operation, maintenance, and rebuilding of transmission lines.
8. Does TVA clean up the trees after performing maintenance activities along its rights of way?
TVA does not clean up trees in unmaintained wooded areas on or near the right of way. TVA has made it a practice, however, to clean up removed trees in residential areas, crop fields and pasture fields.
9. Do I own trees on the right of way or does TVA? Does TVA pay me for the trees removed on my right of way?
TVA does not pay for trees removed from a right of way. When the right of way easement was purchased, the agreement included the trees in the right of way.
10. Does TVA have the right to remove a tree that is located outside a transmission line right of way?
Yes, if it is a “danger tree.” A danger tree is any tree located outside the right of way that would 1) come within five feet of an electric power line if it fell, 2) would hit a transmission line structure if it fell, or 3) would come within five feet of a transmission structure if it fell. (Some easement documents provide for a 10-foot distance.) Almost all easement documents give TVA the right to remove such trees for the protection of the transmission line.
TVA also has the permanent right under most easement documents to remove any portion of a tree that is located off the right of way but extends over it, regardless of the height of the tree.
11. Will TVA trim danger trees located outside the right of way rather than cutting them down?
Tree-trimming is a hazardous and expensive activity. Generally, TVA removes danger trees instead of trimming them due to the expense and hazard of the maintenance.
12. If TVA removes a danger tree that is off the easement, do you have the right to leave the felled tree in place or do you have to move it onto the easement?
TVA does not have a legal duty to move felled danger trees that are located outside a right of way onto the right of way after they are felled.
13. Does TVA pay me for the danger trees that are removed outside the right of way?
TVA is not required to reimburse property owners for danger trees it removes.
14. Do I need to contact TVA about trees that are close to or within a TVA right of way?
Yes, you should contact the TVA Transmission Right of Way Sector Forester for your area about trees that are near or within a TVA right of way. Do not attempt to remove such trees yourself.
15. Can I burn trash, brush, or debris within the transmission line right of way?
Burning brush and other debris is not allowed within the right of way. Fire and smoke may damage the transmission structures and wires and may interrupt electric power service to customers.
16. Can I stack or store combustible materials on the right of way?
You should not store combustible materials on the right of way since these materials pose a potential fire hazard to the operation of the transmission line. Nothing should be stacked or stored on the right of way if its height or position compromises the electrical safety clearance distance to the line or impedes accessibility to the line for maintenance. Extreme caution should be exercised when forklifts or other loading equipment are used under any electric lines (see question 17).
17. Are TVA transmission lines insulated? Can I operate equipment near the lines?
TVA transmission lines are insulated only by air. Everyone should stay clear of all transmission wires. No equipment such as cotton or grain harvesters, dump trucks, or crane booms should be raised near a transmission line. In addition, care should be taken to maintain a safe distance from electric wires when using backhoes, cranes, fork lifts, pile-drivers, well drilling rigs and other tall equipment.
If you have questions about clearance, including whether placing fill within the right of way would violate TVA’s easement rights, please contact the TVA Transmission Right of Way Regional Forester for your area.
18. Can I build or maintain buildings within the transmission line right of way?
Almost all easement documents prohibit the presence of buildings or other structures on the right of way.
19. Can I install a septic tank or field line within a transmission line right of way?
Only if the installation does not unreasonably interfere with TVA’s easement rights will they be allowed. A tank or field line must be installed deep enough so that it would not be damaged by or cause damage to maintenance vehicles and equipment using the easement rights. Before installing septic systems on an easement, contact the TVA Transmission Right of Way Regional Forester for your area. Also, see Question 17.
20. Can I install a drainage ditch, pond, or backfill or excavate within the right of way?
Not if the ground elevation is raised such that it poses a safety clearance risk. If such activities do not unreasonably interfere with the safe operation and maintenance of the line and do not restrict reasonable access to the line, they are generally permitted. Before performing grade-changing activities, contact the TVA Transmission Right of Way Regional Forester for your area. Also, see Question 17.
21. Can I install a fence on the right of way?
If the type and location of the fence do not unreasonably interfere with TVA’s easement rights, they may be allowed. For example, landowners can install agricultural-type fences, such as those made of three-strand barbed wire or woven-wire. Stone, brick, wrought iron, and chain link fences, are generally not allowed without special access provision.
TVA representatives need to travel up and down the rights of way, so if fences of any type are constructed, 16-foot-wide gates may be required for TVA access. Request approval from the TVA Transmission Right of Way Regional Forester for your area before installing fences across a right of way.
22. Will you provide or install a gate for me?
Fences and gates are the responsibility of the property owner.
23. Will TVA assist landowners in problems with erosion or trespassing by hunters and four-wheelers?
TVA and its contractors are responsible only for repairing or paying for the repair of physical damage to land caused by TVA’s exercise of its easement rights. TVA is not responsible for erosion from other causes. TVA’s easement rights do not authorize it to take action against trespassers unless the trespassers’ actions interfere with those easement rights. Other trespassing issues are between the landowner and the trespasser.
24. What are some examples of acceptable uses by landowners of transmission line rights of way?
Landowners may use the right of way for any purpose that is not expressly prohibited by the easement document or does not unreasonably interfere with TVA’s easement rights. Examples of permissible uses include pasture, lawns, crops, gardens, driveways and parking lots. If you have a question about a proposed use of a right of way, please contact the TVA Transmission Right of Way Regional Forester for your area. Also, see Question 17.
25. Are there health concerns for transmission lines?
26. What is the difference between transmission and distribution?
The most significant difference is volume - the difference between wholesale and retail. TVA’s transmission system moves power from the generating plants to your local power company. In turn, your local power company has a system of lower voltage distribution lines that moves the power from the substations to the individual homes, businesses and industry in your area.
Many more people could be affected by damage to a transmission line than by damage to a distribution line.
More about vegetation management near transmission lines