Pylons, property rights and a protracted process appropriated from the processors of good cheese

Alf has a great deal of sympathy with the farmers who look determined to block Transpower from their properties in South Canterbury.

It’s all about the bloody great pylons Transpower must plant and maintain on private properties so we can all get our electricity, plug in our PCs, read this blog, and so on.

Underpinning the stand-off, it seems, is a point of principle: Transpower wants to pay a one-off lump sum by way of compension for its use of private property. The farmers want an annual rental.

But the parties seem to be taking a helluva long time to reach an agreement.

As the Herald tells it (based on a report from the Timaru Herald) –

A number of landowners with pylons on their properties have become frustrated after four years of negotiations failed to deliver what they consider fair compensation for use of their land.

A meeting of the South Canterbury Federated Farmers pylon committee on Tuesday issued an ultimatum giving the power company seven days to reach an agreement or padlocks will be going on gates, the Timaru Herald reported.

Transpower spokeswoman Rebecca Wilson said major upgrade work on the Roxburgh-Islington line, which supplies Christchurch, had been completed, but critical maintenance work was still to be done on the foundations of about 20 towers.

Temuka farmer Jeremy Talbot told the newspaper he had closed his gates, allowing Transpower on his land only if there was an emergency.

“There is to be no more access given to allow that work to be finished until we finally do get the settlement we’ve been seeking.”

According to Transpower’s mouthpiece, landowners are being dealt with individually and have been offered “easement” payments, which some have taken up.

That offer remains on the table and the company is still negotiating.

The mouthpiece said:

“There’s various factors that we need to still talk to the farmers about and we’re continuing to negotiate with them.”

Hah! Four years of bloody negotiating, and they still have things to talk about. It’s risible.

Federated Farmers has a national electricity spokesman, a bloke called Philip York. He is quoted as saying the organisation does not condone the lockout and is continuing to work with Transpower, but (like Alf) he sympathises with the farmers.

“I can understand the frustration of these people being pushed into this position. There’s about 20 pylons left [to be upgraded]. They’re thinking that as soon as they finish these 20 then Transpower are just going to walk away and pretend the problem doesn’t exist.

“So they’re just protecting what they perceive as their rights.”

As York points out, annual rental fees are paid to people with cellphone towers and wind farms on their land and overseas models include payment for power lines.

“As far as we are concerned, we’d like to think Transpower will be offering a modest annual payment.”

He’s got a point.

It’s not the only scrap Transpower has got into with farmers.

Another bunch of farmers in the Waikato last month – remember? – warned that an $824 million pylon project due to start about now may lead to standoffs between farmers and Transpower.

Transpower has said the upgrade is needed to increase the capacity of electricity to the upper North Island which has experienced several issues with supply in recent years.

The farmers and Transpower agree on one thing: they say the Government should step in and sort things out.

But Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee apparently has better things to do. He was banging on to Radio NZ this morning about these things being complicated, and how it’s not a black and white issue, and how he doesn’t like a gun being held to Transpower’s head…

Oh, and he said there is a proper process to be gone through.

Yep. So there is. A process that seems to have been borrowed from the makers of good cheese – it takes time.

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