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Power line company agrees to maintain transmission routes

20 Nov 2003

The NZ Forest Owners Association has welcomed assurances by Transpower that property easements, to allow line construction and maintenance, are needed where power lines cross private land

Association chief executive Rob McLagan was responding to recent statements by Transpower chief executive, Ralph Craven.

Transpower is planning major upgrades to the ageing national grid, much of which was built in the 1950s and 60s. In statements recently posted on the company's website, Mr Craven says Transpower will be seeking property easements for the first time, as the company has no rights to the land over which its lines are built.

In a speech to the Electricity Network Association, Mr Craven said Transpower would work with land owners and would compensate them fairly.

Mr McLagan says line companies have sometimes demanded that property owners maintain electricity routes, even when they didn't have a connection to the line in question.

"This has been a constant worry, especially when the demands have included a threat of legal action. In some cases, property owners have been told they would have liability if there was an 'outage'."

The issue was brought to the attention of the wider public in August when a young Auckland boy was severely injured when he grabbed a live transmission line while climbing a tree. At the time, the power company concerned attempted to shift responsibility for trimming the tree to the property owner.

Mr McLagan says the idea that private property owners have a responsibility or the skills to maintain electricity routes "borders on the ridiculous".

The source of the problem, he argues, is a lack of clear recognition in statute law that line owners are responsible for the maintenance of their transmission routes. While routine maintenance is a normal cost of power distribution, this was not recognised when the electricity network was privatised.

"In common law there is no argument. The lines belong to the power companies so they are responsible for them.

"But nevertheless, individual property owners are vulnerable to threats by large utilities," Mr McLagan said.

"We welcome Transpower's acceptance that easements are required, particularly where the respective rights and responsibilities of line and land owner have never been documented," says Mr McLagan.

The Association has prepared advice and framework agreements which it will provide on request to land owners whose properties are crossed by electricity routes.

"We look forward to meeting with Transpower to progress the development of formal power line easements across private land," he concluded.