Battle to take land for $40m power line reaches Appeal Court

3:56 pm on 3 July 2020

Top Energy's long-running battle to build a $40 million power line from Kerikeri to Kaitaia has reached the Court of Appeal.

22363608 - electricity pylon against the blue sky

Three landowners are refusing to allow Top Energy to build a new power line on their properties. (file pic) Photo: 123RF

The company wants to take land under the Public Works Act from three landowners west of Kerikeri who are refusing to allow the new line on their properties. The case will be heard in Wellington next week, the Crown leading it on behalf of the Kaikohe-based power company.

Top Energy wants the property owners' land around Mangakaretu Road, a loop road off Puketotara Road about 10km from Kerikeri, so it can build a second 110kV line via the east coast to provide critical power security for Kaitaia from its Wiroa Road substation. Their land is a short distance from what would be the start of the new line.

Its planned 110kV line from Kerikeri (Wiroa substation) to Kaitaia is shown as a green dotted line.

Top Energy's Far North power lines are shown in this representative diagram. Its planned 110kV line from Kerikeri (Wiroa substation) to Kaitaia is shown as a green dotted line. Photo: Supplied / Top Energy

Twelve thousand Kaitaia and surrounds customers are currently served by an 'at risk' single half-century-old 110kV line through often-mountainous central Far North land from Kaikohe to Kaitaia.

Russell Shaw, Top Energy chief executive, told a Far North District Council meeting last week this ageing line had reached the end of its life and was constantly at risk of failing.

The land sought under the Act provided the only route option for the new power line. It was in a corridor with Crown land on either side.

Mangakaretu Road farmer Dorothy Dromgool, one of the owners fighting the power line route across their land, would not comment on their fight, citing next week's court hearing.

In July 2018, the Environment Court ruled in favour of lawyers representing Minister of Lands Eugenie Sage on behalf of Top Energy. This set the scene for compulsory acquisition under the Public Works Act of land belonging to Dorothy and Shane Dromgool, Alan and Jennifer Poulton and Newman Farms.

These opponents appealed the decision to the High Court. In July 2019, the High Court found in favour of two of their five appeal grounds. These largely focused on a lack of information about alternative power line route options the Minister and Environment Court had at hand for their deliberations.

Tuesday will be the first of two days in the Court of Appeal for the Minister for Land Information, on behalf of Top Energy, to challenge that decision.

Seven-year process involving 80 landowners

The hearing will be part of a roughly 18-month legal battle - at the end of a seven-year process which has seen Top Energy negotiate easements with 80 landowners including iwi, to enable it to build the line.

Artist's impression

An artist's impression of the new line. Photo: Supplied

Shaw said delays in starting the new line had forced the company to spend $12 million over the last 18 months on 14 backup diesel generators in Kaitaia, Taipa, Omanaia and Pukenui. These provided crucial power backup should the existing Kaikohe to Kaitaia line fail and for regular maintenance work.

The ageing line will reach the end of its life by 2030. Shaw said it was at risk of breaking apart and falling to the ground.

"Some parts of the line are particularly vulnerable. Between 2013 and 2017 there were nine outages which reflected a loss of power for over 40 hours to substantial parts of the network.

"The estimated economic impact on the Far North economy of those outages is over $13 million," High Court documents said.

Shaw said the line needed major extra maintenance because of its age. This included flying a helicopter along it with a special camera to monitor performance.

Top Energy was first set up in 1935, the company owned by its power consumers. Its shares are held by the Top Energy Consumer Trust - formerly the Bay of Islands Electric Power Trust - on behalf of the district's electricity consumers.

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