What ruins the view from a home? It could be new construction, a commercial area, or even a poorly maintained neighboring property. For many homeowners, however, the answer is an intrusive and unsightly utility pole and residential power lines. Is this just an aesthetic concern or is there a real downside to living near power lines?
Ranging in height from 20 to 100 feet and spaced about 125 feet apart, utility poles can lower your property values, cause damage to your home and land, and may even be hazardous to your health. Understanding the possible dangers is essential for protecting yourself, your home, and your family.
Although we refer to them as power lines, the wires you see strung between utility poles serve a number of different purposes. You’ll find some or all of the following:
- Transformers: Large metal canisters which convert high voltage to the low voltage suitable for homes and businesses.
- Transmission wires: High-voltage wires carrying electrical currents between substations.
- Distribution wires: Reduced voltage wires carrying electricity to homes and businesses.
- Communication lines: These include cable, broadband, and telephone wires.
You may think that any danger from power lines is limited to the lines themselves, but in fact, the utility poles can also cause extensive damage. Wood that is used for some poles can leach chemical treatments into the soil as well as drawing woodborne insects, like termites, to your property. This causes some companies to revert to the use of poles made of steel, fiberglass, or concrete.
In addition, poorly maintained utility poles can come crashing down onto your property. Aside from the physical danger, this can create financial peril when numerous companies are using the same equipment and can’t decide who is liable for property damage or personal injury.
The power lines themselves can give off dangerous levels of stray voltage, resulting in extensive property damage, like the twelve catastrophic wildfires caused by PG&E equipment in 2017. This liability has caused PG&E to begin to shut down power to area residents preemptively in some parts of the Valley during periods of high winds.
Aside from these risks, there is the ongoing debate over the effects of electromagnetic fields and their impact on health outcomes like cancer, birth defects, miscarriages, and heart abnormalities. While the jury is still out on the definitive connection, one-half of the studies so far have shown either a positive correlation or mixed results. For many buyers, that is enough to make utility towers and power lines a deal-breaker when purchasing a home.
In light of the increased effects of climate change and the increased incidence of catastrophic storms, it may seem logical to simply bury power lines. Many states and municipalities across the US have made moves to take this step, both in order to increase reliability and to reduce potential damage. However, as with many improvements, the cost has been seen as a prohibitive factor.
Burying power lines costs, on average, $1 million per mile, with costs in some areas as much as triple that figure. As with other utility costs, this would have to be passed on to residents, and many utility companies simply do not find the resulting rate increase feasible for all of their customers. But, I would be inclined to learn the cost differential between what is currently being done – an ongoing onslaught of tree trimming that has no end in sight.
In addition, while burying power lines protects them from the effects of high winds and falling trees, it introduces the elements of flooding, root intrusion, and reduced access for maintenance. Thus, utility companies and their clients may be trading one set of inconveniences for another. Both with a hefty price tag.
This Spring, PG&E began using helicopters and cranes to make repairs and updates to electric towers, poles, lines, and other equipment along a 12-mile stretch from Rincon substation outside of Santa Rosa to St. Helena. Work is expected to continue through October and is said to be “crucial to the safety of the system,” according to a PG&E press release.
Napa Valley real estate owners affected by power outages during the work week will be notified by letter and by phone call in advance, according to the company. However, restoration of streets and other hardscape damaged during the work is not expected to begin until after the project is complete.
Any PG&E employee who needs to access your private property, in order to update or upgrade its equipment, should have a valid ID for you to review.
Studies generally show that, on average, visible and nearby power lines do not have a significant effect on price. However, for luxury homeowners or those for whom a picture-perfect, unobstructed view is an essential part of the home’s value, power lines may have a bigger impact.
Additionally, if you have significant acreage, easements granted to the utility companies for the placement and maintenance of utility poles and power lines can be seen as an annoyance, resulting in a perceived decrease in your home’s value. While some isolated studies have shown a significant effect on property values, the net negative effect must usually be judged on a case-by-case basis.
If you have questions about the placement of utility infrastructure by your Napa Valley estate and its effect on the value, let’s try to evaluate this complex issue.