August 2006

Changes to the Electricity Supply Act affect property owners, acquisition of easements

The Act

The Electricity Supply Amendment (Protection of Electricity Works) Act 2006 is "an Act to amend the Electricity Supply Act 1995 so as to protect the presence, operation and use of certain electricity works and clarify the provisions of that Act with respect to the removal of structures and things that may endanger electricity works; and for other purposes".

The Act commenced on the date of assent 26 May 2006.

The Changes

A snapshot of the changes are:

  • Owners of property where existing electricity works are located but not protected by a registered easement, cannot take any legal action against a network operator in respect of the presence, operation or use of the existing works (negligence excepted).
  • The rights of network operators regarding obstruction of electricity works have been extended to include anything which could make the electricity works become a potential cause of bushfire or a potential risk to public safety. The amendments align the wording of this section with that of section 48 which is an analogous provision dealing with hazards to electricity works which are posed by trees.
  • The right of a network operator to recover costs of carrying out work or repairing damage as a result of obstructions does not apply if the structure or thing was lawfully placed and the network operator does not have the benefit of a registered easement or the structure or thing was placed there with the agreement of the network operator. Where these circumstances apply, the network operator must bear the cost of removing the structure or thing and is liable to the owner of the structure or thing for any loss or damage suffered as a consequence of its removal.

Effect on Easement Acquisitions

Unless the network operator wishes to obtain particular ancillary rights, there is no longer a legal need for a network operator to obtain either an easement or a property owner's agreement for existing electricity works located within land over which the network operator does not have the benefit of an easement.

As Minister Tripodi said in Parliament on 3 May 2006 "network operators will be required to obtain formal easements and compensate land holders in accordance with the Land Acquisition (Just Terms Compensation) Act 1991 if they wish to protect future electricity works constructed on private land."

Good arguments can be raised that a different valuation approach may be required for the acquisition by network operators of easements for the operation, protection and maintenance of existing electricity works.