Imagine you want to open a gas station. There are many locations you could buy to build, but your neighbor owns the best corner lot in town. Even though people really need gas, the public would benefit from your service, and your neighbor’s lot might be the perfect location, you still would not be able to force him to sell to you at a price you determined. Not only is such an idea absurd, but the injustice of this scenario is blatant. If you wanted to build your gas station, you would have to negotiate a voluntary sale with him or somebody else. Mass-transmission energy projects should be no different.
The Case for Free-Market Negotiations
Easements for some infrastructure, such as roads or electric and gas distribution lines serving homes and businesses, must be built in specific locations to service customers. In these instances, the use of eminent domain may be required to provide services to the entire community. However, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and other mass-transmission projects like it are similar to your imaginary gas station – while the people do need energy and the public might benefit, such projects do not need to be built along specific routes to service specific homes, businesses, or localities. Therefore, these projects enjoy an immense amount of flexibility in where they can be routed, and they can be easily routed around landowners who do not wish to sell.
There are many examples demonstrating the success of free-market negotiations to build large-scale infrastructure projects, including pipelines. One such example is a high-voltage transmission line that Florida Power & Lights (FP&L) built in Texas without using eminent domain. But how much would it cost for Dominion Resources to do the same for the ACP? Based on the FP&L project and Dominion’s own projections, the cost of acquiring a right-of-way for the ACP without eminent domain would only be 4.4% of the total project cost. To put it another way, Dominion would make more in its very first year of operating profits than any additional cost of acquiring its easement without eminent domain!
When combined with the practice of collocation, the routing flexibility available for mass-transmission lines removes every excuse for exercising eminent domain except one: greed. For this reason, projects like the ACP should no more be allowed to force the sale of their preferred route at a discount through eminent domain than you are allowed to for your gas station.