There’s more than mere relocation involved in moving poles on-farm.
By Colleen Halpenny
Frank Dietrich of Lucan was excited to begin making tiling plans for one of his fields recently. “We purchased this plot a couple of years ago, but last year really looked into getting it tile-drained so we could maximize yields,” he reflects.
“Currently, along the road, there are 10 hydro poles, which sit about 30 feet into my field. The poles are not in great shape – most were installed in the 1960s.”
The poles hampered his operations.
“Beyond the loss of land available to crop, and navigating around them with machinery size always increasing, these poles occupy a large space which I need to maintain. That’s a lot of extra grass to cut!”
In the years since the poles were installed, the ditches have been cleared, and recently the township removed the few remaining trees that were starting to decay.
“With that space clear, the poles in poor condition, and my desire to properly drain the field, I approached Hydro One about working together to relocate them.
“What a shock!
“The total bill to move these 10 poles from my field to the township’s road allowance was a whopping $158,523.71, of which my share would be $39,630.93,” says Dietrich.
Ian Nokes, farm policy analyst with the OFA, concedes that many producers just accept the poles located on their land and that they’re merely a fact of farming. “The difficulties we’re facing today is that new landowners are dealing with those easements which were given by previous owners or older generations, and now in many cases equipment is too large to work safely around those poles.”
The ins & outs of easements
A producer’s property is subject to a hydro easement under Section 42 of the Power Corporation Act. This act states that all cables, poles, and wires above and below ground on private property belong to Ontario Hydro.
As such, they have the right to enter your land to maintain those hydro cables, poles, and wires.
“Hydro and local distribution companies often rely on their distribution lines going across properties they don’t own,” Nokes explains.
“Hydro and utility companies aren’t in the land-owning business. Historically, they have used public and private land in order to provide coverage and continue doing so to make proper connections.
“A new landowner today is still under the right of easement granted maybe 50 years ago,” he continues. “These long-standing easements are fairly common in the distribution network.
“Sometimes there aren’t poles on the land to visibly recognize there’s an easement in place, so when purchasing land, we do encourage farmers to do their title searches so they’re aware of anything that may already be in effect.
“Farmers can also be unaware of the obligations they’re under to maintain year-round access to these poles, or, in the scenario of a tree falling on a line, that the landowner is the one responsible to pay for that resolution.”
Sandra Clark of Maryhill says the need for year-round right-of-way is what prompted the decision to bury the hydro lines on their farm.
“We were at a time where the poles, which run through our hay field, were either going to be condemned in about five years, or we needed to drill new posts,” she recalls.
“Under the logistics of protecting crops while still giving accessibility, and safely working around the poles without sacrificing acreage, we thought burying the lines was going to be our best solution.”
The goal, and reason for their ultimate choice, was to limit year over year disruption to paddocks, fields and other buildings, while keeping lines away from livestock. “Buried lines give us a bit more confidence in lowering the chances of things going wrong.”
Nokes points out that “burying lines is only an option in rural areas when bringing hydro onto a property from the road to buildings. It’s not an option when working with general distribution lines, such as many would have tracking across their fields.”
While the majority of producers will deal with Hydro One, some may work with a local power source – but either way, they’ll end up working alongside an installment contractor.
Dave Vinson, owner of Vinson Well Drilling in Coldwater, is one such independent contractor used by Hydro One.
“We do both replacements and new installs. Usually, once a property owner has gone through the process of working with hydro and they’ve agreed to a plan of action, the property owner would contact us to get things rolling,” Vinson comments.
“What we seem to be consistently working on for owners are upgrades. So, poles need to be replaced and the best long-term location found. Poles can either be supplied by Hydro One or we can put the owner in contact with various companies and purchase separate,” Vinson states.
Vinson acknowledges that many property owners try to do much of the prep work themselves, but at the end of the day, it has to be to code. “So let’s say you’ve found a cheaper pole somewhere else; if it isn’t stamped as approved by the CSA, the linesman won’t hook it up.”
Alicia Sayers, a media contact with Hydro One, reiterates that everything Hydro One does starts with safety. “And this includes regularly patrolling and inspecting our equipment. If Hydro One determines equipment needs to be replaced and it is in an off-road or difficult-to-access area, this equipment may be relocated so crews can better access it.”
Nokes agrees. “Safety for all when working with a right-of-way and around hydro lines is always top priority.”
Clark appreciates the peace of mind the underground hydro provides.
“Buried lines give us a lot of peace of mind when others are operating equipment on our property. We’ve had propane trucks hit the pole in the driveway multiple times, thankfully it is no longer working!” she laughs.
While some landowners may have to work around poles on their property, according to Nokes, farmers can take advantage of those lands that distribution companies do own and can rent the land at a reasonable rate.
“The goal here from the standpoint of the OFA is to make sure farmers are knowledgeable about their rights, finding the best solution for all, and ensure that the overall best interests of the farmer are respected.
“We don’t want to reach a point where there’s no benefit to farmers to allow for easements. Have open and constant conversations as early as possible,” Nokes says.
He also stresses that “we don’t want to scare producers into not granting easements, but we want them to do their homework.
“We’re here to help with that process. We’re able to be a liaison between the farmer and utilities to ensure these agreements have a straightforward contract.
“If someone is accessing your property, you need to ensure that you’re fairly compensated in the case of disruption to crops or your day-to-day activities.”
Even with some additional legwork and upfront costs, Clark is steadfast in her decision to remove the poles.
“We had quotes come in for poles which were anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000 each, and there’s no warranty on those.
“We dug that trench and haven’t looked back. Our sightlines are clean and clear. It’s quite a thing to realize we’re fully cropping above the wires. We’ve gained a lot of freedom with how we work,” she concludes.
Dietrich remains optimistic that a solution can be found for replacement of the hydro poles.
“I just want to know how they came to that figure and explore what the validity of these easements are, so many decades later. It’s unfortunate. I know they have a lot of work to do supplying many customers, but it does feel like they know they’ve got you. It feels like we farmers are stuck between a rock and a hard place.”
If producers are ever approached for a new easement, Nokes reminds them to contact the OFA and their legal counsel “to ensure that your best interests are kept a top priority. We’re here to help farmers keep doing what they do best – farming.” BF