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Trees costing community “millions” each year

30 April 2018

The Lines Company (TLC) is backing calls for an urgent review of tree regulations, saying poor tree maintenance is personally costing King Country and Ruapehu power customers around $80 – $120 each per year.

TLC is part of the Electricity Networks Association (ENA) which has called on the government to urgently sort out tree regulations which it says are “not working”.  The call came after 180,000 Aucklanders were left without power after recent storms.

TLC general manager – operations Dayl Spencer, who was on a vegetation management working group, said around 60-70 per cent of power outages in storms nationwide were due to trees.  TLC spends about $1 million a year on trimming and felling trees and another $700,000 – $1m per year fixing faults caused by trees falling on lines. Sometimes both the lines and poles are completely destroyed.

“The fact is that poorly placed trees are costing our customers and our community perhaps 1.7 million per year,” Spencer said. “That’s money we don’t need to, and shouldn’t have to spend.”

Spencer says while trees on private land can be an issue, the biggest culprit was forestry companies – many of them overseas-owned.

“Forestry companies are the real challenge because the regulations don’t cover the problems we have with forestry trees.  We have a good relationship with some companies but the rest are largely apathetic about doing anything,” he said.

“Over the years TLC has made multiple approaches to forestry block owners although tracking down ownership is not always easy.  In some cases, our requests for trees to be trimmed have been ignored or barely acknowledged. They just don’t care because it doesn’t impact on them.  Instead, TLC customers bear the brunt in terms of both cost and power outages. It’s simply not fair.”

TLC had contacted the Overseas Investment Office about the issue but to no avail, he said.

“They pretty well didn’t want to know.”

Spencer said trees growing too close to power lines were a safety hazard and put TLC staff at unnecessary risk.

“It’s our crews that go out there in storms to fix the faults and it can be dangerous work. If tree owners worked alongside us and took some responsibility we wouldn’t have to send crews out as often and the community wouldn’t be wearing the cost or the inconvenience of power outages.”

TLC will trim trees once at no charge, he said, but would rather see them nowhere near power lines at all.

“Trees are like lawns; you’ve got to stay on top of them.  We see trees planted in places that are totally inappropriate and it’s frustrating because we know at some point they will cause an issue for the wider community.”

Trees around power lines are regulated by the 2003 Electricity (Hazards from Trees) Regulations. Despite dissatisfaction from the electricity lines industry and the growing number of tree-related outages, the regulations have never been reviewed.

A review was meant to be undertaken during the 2017-19 financial years by the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) but has not yet started.

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