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New tree rules just ‘tinkering around the edges’

21 May 2024

New measures to protect power lines from falling trees have been cautiously welcomed by The Lines Company (TLC).

But the measures only “tinker around the edges” and don’t go anywhere near far enough to remove the risk to communities from power outages, said chief executive Mike Fox.

Energy Minister Simeon Brown has announced the government will make it easier for companies like TLC to take action to reduce the risk of trees taking down power lines and cutting power.

Fox noted 10 per cent of TLC’s network – 150,000 hectares – is covered in forestry blocks.  About a third of all TLC’s power outages each year come from vegetation and of that, more than 90 per cent are from falling trees.

“We literally spend millions of dollars to manage trees and repair damage, but there are some blocks on our network which, to be frank, are poorly maintained by a small number of forestry owners,” Fox said.

“When storms come through, we know that no matter what we have done, we are likely to see fallen trees on power lines, cutting power and putting our communities at risk. That is wildly frustrating because it’s our community which bears the brunt of the issue and they can least afford it.”

During Cyclone Gabrielle in 2023, TLC sustained $1.65 million in damage, most of it from trees falling onto lines. Across New Zealand, trees interrupted supply to 68,000 households.

The measures announced by the Minister are a step in the right direction but only a tiny step, Fox said.

“If these new rules had been in place during Gabrielle, they wouldn’t have made much difference at all because they still don’t address issues of falling trees,” he said.

“Our sector is being forced to work with regulations which are now 20 years old and well out of date.  We’ve been asking for changes for more than a decade now.”

The Minister’s announcement comes just one week after TLC unveiled its use of the heli-saw, a specialised tree-trimming saw hanging from a helicopter. The heli-saw has the potential to transform the industry by safely and quickly trimming trees too close to power lines.

Fox said TLC’s use of the heli-saw had created enormous interest and drawn attention to the issues being faced by electricity distribution companies right across the country.

“Our job is to consistently deliver a safe and reliable power supply and we will always utilise new technology and new tools to do that. Having much more robust tree regulations is a really important part of the mix but despite this announcement, there’s a heck of a long way to go.”


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