TasNetworks engaging with TFGA on poles and wires ownership dispute

State-owned electricity distributor TasNetworks has sought to resolve a dispute with the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association over the ownership of poles and wires in the state.

In an upper house government business scrutiny hearing, TasNetworks chief executive Lance Balcombe and Energy Minister Guy Barnett took questions from MLCs on the operations of the company. 

Committee chairman and independent McIntyre MLC Greg Hall got the ball rolling, asking about the “festering issue … that is the ownership of poles and wires”.

There are some private landholders, particularly in rural and regional communities, who are confused as to their liability in the event of damage to electricity infrastructure.

Mr Hall wanted to know whether or not the issue had been resolved.

“It’s the bane of many people’s existence out there at the moment,” Mr Hall said.

“There are a lot of questions being asked.”

Mr Barnett said TasNetworks was engaging with the TFGA “to ensure that any doubt has been removed” around ownership.

Mr Balcombe said TasNetworks had met with the TFGA as recently as last Monday to discuss the matter.

He also said the business had engaged with the Justice Department.

“We own to the first pole and any infrastructure beyond that is owned by the private landholder,” Mr Balcombe said, citing legal advice.

“That excludes where there’s a transformer on that pole and the meter. The metering infrastructure is ours.

“Where this, to some extent, may create some confusion, is that the government and the prior government has requested that Aurora and TasNetworks continue to be responsible for the inspection of those assets.”

Mr Balcombe said TasNetworks undertook that role on behalf of the state.

“We don’t get reimbursed for that,” he said.

Independent Hobart MLC Rob Valentine noted that if there was a defect in a piece of electricity infrastructure and someone got electrocuted as a result of that defect, it was TasNetworks’ electricity before it got to the landholder’s premises.

“So where does that sit?” Mr Valentine asked.

Mr Balcombe said the liability was “unclear”.

“Now the ownership issue has been clarified, we’ve … circled back to ensure that we’ve got the appropriate liability regime in place,” he said.

“Private ownership does present a risk for distribution businesses all over the country.

“It’s so important that … inspections are done properly.”

Approximately 43,000 privately owned electricity power poles are dotted around Tasmania.

This story Poles and wires ownership ‘confusion’ probed in upper house hearing first appeared on The Advocate.