Better tree regs will mean fewer power cuts during storms

News | 09 March, 2023

A  government review of the Electricity (Hazards from Trees) Regulations 2003 is strongly endorsed by the Electricity Networks Association (ENA).

ENA chief executive Graeme Peters says Cyclone Gabrielle showed once again the need for electricity distribution businesses to be able to effectively manage vegetation near power lines.

“The ENA wholeheartedly embraces the Government’s commitment to urgently review the Electricity (Hazards from Trees) Regulations 2003,” Peters says.

Energy and Resource Minister Megan Woods said a review proposed options that would improve the resilience of the electricity network and prepare New Zealand for climate change

“Cyclone Gabrielle has highlighted the hazards to electricity lines and transmission infrastructure from vegetation in extreme weather events. The climate is changing and so must we,” the minister said.

Peters estimated that about half of the 225,000 people who lost power at the height of the cyclone had an outage because of trees falling or flailing into lines.

“Our affected North Island members were left frustrated, disappointed and angry that the current regulations don’t allow them to properly manage vegetation around their lines. The cyclone was consequently able to cause tree-related damage that left customers without power for many days and, in some cases where access was blocked, weeks.”

Peters says ENA members are largely in agreement on what better regulations would look like.

“There are a range of potential options that would improve both the workability of the tree regs from a practical standpoint, and more importantly increase overall security of electricity supply, both in normal weather and storm scenarios, and enhance public and worker safety.

“Increasing the growth limit zones around power lines, making these zones ‘clear to sky’ – so not allowing branches to hang directly over lines – and including some consideration of tree fall zones would go a long way towards improving the effectiveness of the tree regulations.

“Such changes would result in a lot fewer tree-related outages.”

Peters acknowledges that the public is concerned about the amenity value of trees, and that removing or cutting back high-risk trees can be controversial.

“But unnecessary power outages to medically-dependent customers, town centres, schools and hospitals is the result of too many old, diseased or wind-sensitive trees near power lines.

“ENA will be strongly supporting the review and we look forward to an outcome which results in fewer outages to customers, improved public and worker safety, and reduced cost of maintaining and repairing lines – savings which ultimately will be passed to homes and businesses.”