Keeping the lights on

When we flick the switch, we expect the lights to go on. We don’t think about the complexities of supplying the electricity, unless the lights don’t work, and then we expect it to be fixed as soon as possible.

But it’s not that simple. An electricity lines company cannot just simply enter private land unless they have already gained the required rights. This is where The Property Group Limited (TPG) assists with securing the necessary rights over land to maintain and upgrade existing networks and construct new lines.

This involves feasibilities of new line routes, assessment of alternatives, acquisition strategies, RMA consenting, landowner and stakeholder negotiations, customer initiated work, and due diligence for asset transfers. But when something goes wrong, the most important element in being able to fix it is having the ability to go onto land and do the necessary work.

When new lines are proposed new property rights have to be acquired either by acquiring land, or more commonly by securing registered easements. These clearly define rights to construct and install as well as the ability to enter onto the land to carry out repairs and maintenance.

However, access for inspection, maintenance or operation of most existing lines are governed by “existing works” rights held under the authority of the Electricity Act 1992 (EA). If the lines supplying electricity to your property were originally erected before the early 1990’s they are likely to be operated under existing works rights. This system is a little more complex.

Under existing works rights, replacements and upgrades are authorised. However this is only to the extent that they do not result in a permanent adverse effect on the owner’s land, which is substantial enough to affect the owner’s use and enjoyment of the land, and the land value. This is called “injurious affection”.

This requires careful evaluation on a case by case basis of what is proposed, the reason for it and the effect on the owner’s land. There can be substantial financial consequences for a lines company if works are carried out that are not authorised under existing works rights.

Repairs are authorised in terms of providing a rough modern equivalent providing they are not done for the purpose of upgrading or increasing overall capacity. The effect of this is that even if injurious affection is caused by those repairs, they can proceed as of right and compensation can be determined when the works are completed.

If it’s a replacement or upgrade, considerations for evaluating injurious must be addressed before the works commence. Factors to be considered include:

  • Increase of the physical or visual footprint on the land or airspace.
  • Increased restrictions (such as wider cross arms and increased clearance requirements).
  • Effects on amenities, eg visual effects, noise, nuisance.

Injurious affection will always be assessed on a case by case basis as each situation will be fact and property specific. The EA provides a useful mechanism for having the legality of the works determined where there is any uncertainty as to whether works will result in injurious affection. Lines companies may also consider the benefit of negotiating an easement to avoid possible disputes and remove future uncertainty.

TPG can help with:

  • Development of evaluation processes.
  • Property research and mapping – providing a visual record of the “before” and “after” situation, including location of existing improvements in proximity to the works.
  • Legal opinion, advice and strategy.
  • Advice or assistance with disturbance claims.
  • Landowner liaison/negotiation.
  • Obtaining appropriate valuation advice.