In In re: Condemnation by PPL Electric Utilities Corp., No. 1389 CD 2012 (Pa. Comm'w May 8, 2013), a Pennsylvania state appeals court held the condemnation of property by a utility for a right-of-way to reconstruct electric lines already existing on the land, needed the prior approval of the Public Utilities Commission. The utility had not sought the PUC's approval because the the statute does not require approval when seeking to rebuild existing lines, and the utility asserted it only meant to do that (and not build new lines).
The declaration of taking, however, was worded much more broadly, and in addition to the rebuilding, also gave the utility the power to "'construct, operate and maintain ... additional Electric Facilities of any type,'" as "'from time to time [may] be necessary for the convenient transaction of the business of [PPL],' including the right to erect new facilities, including fiber optic lines, and 'the right to remove any buildings or structures from the property.'" Slip op. at 6. The utility countered that it only intended to rebuild the existing lines, and the language of the declaration did not conform to what it meant to accomplish.
Adhering to the usual rule that eminent domain statutes must be strictly construed against the condemnor, the Commonwealth Court concluded that the language of the declaration controlled over the utility's professed intent to limit the scope of the taking:
Although PPL argues that its present intentions are merely to maintain existing facilities, and not to run new wires or put up new poles, the Declaration is not so limited, but authorizes PPL to do more: to construct, operate, and "reconstruct overhead and underground distribution lines, including, but not limited to, such poles, towers, guys, cables, wires, fiber optics, fixtures and apparatus above and below the ground."
Slip op. at 8.
Bottom line for condemnors: you draft these things, so if they're worded in such a way that triggers PUC approvals because they don't accurately reflect your intent, that's on you. Condemnation dismissed.
More, including a complete run-down here ("Commonwealth Court panel reverses trial court in eminent domain case involving PPL Electric"), from the Pennsylvania Record.