The New South Wales parliament has recently passed an act amending the Electricity Supply Act 1995 (NSW) to give special powers to electricity network operators in relation to bush fire prevention on bush fire prone land that is privately owned.
The Electricity Supply Amendment (Bushfire Hazard Reduction) Act 2014 (Amendment Act) provides that a network operator may give the owner or occupier of privately owned bush fire prone land a written direction requiring the owner or occupier to carry out bush fire risk mitigation work on vegetation or aerial consumer mains (being privately owned powerlines) on the land in several circumstances, including where the network operator has determined that the vegetation could make the network operator’s electricity works or aerial consumer mains become a potential cause of bush fire or where a fault in the aerial consumer mains could make them become a potential cause of bush fire.
A landowner will have 30 days to respond to a direction and must complete the required work within 60 days after the direction is given. Network operators are authorised to enter premises and do the required work if an owner fails to comply with a direction.
Significantly, directions given under the new provisions override requirements under other legislation to obtain a consent or authorisation prior to carrying out certain work (including clearing vegetation) as the Amendment Act specifically provides that work required to be done under a direction will not require development consent under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (NSW) or an approval or consent under certain other legislation, including the Native Vegetation Act 2003 (NSW).
The Amendment Act also addresses responsibility for the costs of complying with a direction – which will be the responsibility of the landowner in some circumstances and the network operator in others.