Trees and Power Lines
On his property, George has electricity distribution lines (owned by the electricity distribution company in his area). George also has electricity service lines that run across his land to his house and woolshed (these lines are owned by George).
George has a number of trees growing close to both the lines owned by him and the lines owned by the distribution company. Although some of the trees were there before George purchased the property, he appreciates that he now owns them. He wonders who is responsible for trimming the trees away from the lines.
The Electricity (Hazards from Trees) Regulations 2003 govern the control of trees around electricity conductors.
For the lines the George owns, he is responsible for maintaining those lines and keeping them clear from trees.
This article primarily deals with the Regulations relevant to lines on George's property that are owned by the electricity distribution company, but the regulations apply to all power lines and trees.
Rights for power lines to be on George's property
There is no registered easement for the lines on George's property (generally, with new lines, there will be). However, as the lines owned by the electricity distribution company on George's property were installed prior to 1 January 1993, they are protected under the Electricity Act by what is referred to as a statutory easement. The Electricity Act also provides for access to the lines by the electricity distribution company.
Planting of trees near power lines and damage to power lines
When planting new trees, George should consider the types of trees and location of them in relation to the power lines to ensure they do not interfere with the lines in the future. If George's trees cause damage to lines (even if they are not in the zones discussed below), he may be liable to the electricity distribution company for their repair and for other costs associated with power outages.
Who can cut trees near power lines?
Only authorised people are allowed to carry out any work in close vicinity to power lines (generally, within a 4 metre radius) due to the safety issues that arise when working close to lines. On finding this out, George resolves to, in the future, keep all his trees trimmed well away from the power lines to avoid having to pay for an authorised tree contractor to do the work.
The regulations provide for certain zones around power lines into which George's trees must not be allowed to encroach. The size of the zones vary depending on the voltage of the lines for an 11,000 volt line trees must not be permitted to grow within 1.6m of power lines.
Obligation to pay for trimming of trees
George has primary responsibility for keeping his trees away from power lines. Once the electricity distribution company becomes aware of George's trees encroaching the zones around its power lines, the company must send notice (a cut or trim notice) to George requiring that the trees must be cut or trimmed. As George's trees have never been cut by the electricity lines company before and do not form part of a shelter belt, the electricity lines company will, generally, pay for the first trim of those trees, after this it is George's responsibility to pay to keep the trees away from power lines.
If George fails to comply with his obligations under the Tree Regulations, he may be liable for fines of up to $10,000.