Supreme Court backs farmers in CapX2020 powerline fight

Photo: CapX2020

Farmers in the path of the enormous CapX2020 electric transmission line project have won a victory at the Minnesota Supreme Court against utility companies involved in the project.

The court ruled in the case of landowners in the path of the Brookings, S.D. to Hampton, Minn., portion of the line, compelling Great River Energy to buy their entire farm.

The so-called Buy the Farm law was enacted in 1977 in Minnesota after a farmer uprising against power lines in west central Minnesota (See “Powerline Blues“). It requires utilities to offer to purchase entire farms when traversing fields for the power lines, rather than carving out easements.

But in the CapX2020 project, farmers say their requests are delayed for years, and they complain the law doesn’t work.

In today’s case, Great River balked at buying Dale and Janet Tauer’s property because it was so much larger than the land needed to run the power line through it. But the Supreme Court said the size of the purchase isn’t a factor in applying the Buy the Farm Law.

“Great River’s proposed interpretation of the Buy-the-Farm statute adds factors to the statute, is inconsistent with the statute’s language, and is unsupported by our case law,” Chief Justice Lori Gildea wrote in today’s opinion (pdf).

Gildea says the utility’s complaints are better directed to the Legislature.

In the waning days of the 2013 legislative session, lawmakers tweaked the law by requiring utilities to pay farmers’ costs incurred during the process of selling to the companies.

More than 2,000 farms properties are in the path of the utility companies’ project.