Safety of rural electricity distribution

I live in a rural area. Power to the house comes via two “private poles”.

Time was, the (public sector) owner of the electricity distribution network maintained the poles and wires, right up to the house, while they were in the area working on the rest of the network. Last week, I received this notice:

Responsibility for maintenance is now mine, it seems. Trouble is, I’m totally unqualified.

This morning, a local electrician came around to take a look. At the bare minimum, I’ll need two poles inspected and perhaps one straightened. I might need one set of wires tensioned and another relieved. One or both poles may need replacement. I gather that there are three or four different trade skill sets involved. The local doesn’t have the necessary skills, equipment or certification.

How long this situation has been developing, I don’t know. By all reports, network maintenance has been minimal for some time. Relying on unqualified customers is a risky move. If nobody has died yet, I’ll be surprised.

I’m considering labelling this phenomenon “Homicidal Capitalism”.

For completeness, here’s the back of the notice:


The back of the forn states that Ausgrid can carry out the work, and if the owner cannot afford to pay, there is a hardship payment plan option.

It may be simplier and cheaper than trying to organise a number of different contractors yourself.

Presumably they should be able to provide you with a quote or an estimate.

One of my wife’s sisters lives on a rural acerage south of Innisfail and another lives on a rural acreage north of Mareeba, and they both have to pay for the maintenance of the poles and wires within their properties.


I have always lived in rural areas of Qld. Ergon maintain the line which serves others. These lines don’t always follow the road, but pass through properties on the ‘shortest’ route. We have a pole with transformer in our property and Ergon have a key to our gates and a right of access.

Where that line goes to a pole to serve only our property, known as a Property Pole, that is our responsibility. Periodically Ergon does an inspection in the area and issues a notice if there are defects. We then engage Ergon to do the rectification. We couldn’t buy poles at their prices and don’t have the plant to easily transport and install. Local electricians may lack the appropriate ticket and/or cherry picker to access the top of the pole. Fortunately we are dealing with a State Owned entity and have been able to pay off some work through our monthly power bill.


Do you know when this changed and how?

According to one reference Ausnet Services
"Electricity customers have always been responsible for their
private electric lines. In 1984 the legislation governing this was
changed to define the ‘point of supply’ and reinforced the need
for private electric line owners to keep vegetation clear of their
private electric lines. "

And you are forbidden to do it. As I read it you need to be a level #2 electrician, which I assume you are not. There are organisations who specialise in this kind of thing and do the whole job including poles, wires, insulators, cross-arms etc which would save you having to project manage various trades people. Nobody is relying on you to do the work, they are saying you are obliged to pay for it.

I don’t read the notes on the back the way Fred does. As I see it Ausgrid will get it done and bill you if you don’t but that doesn’t say they will do it. They may employ a contractor and pass the cost on to you, so organizing the quote yourself may save you some if they don’t care to do it at least cost.


Fixed that for you. :slight_smile:

In the first instance, I would suggest that Drop_Bear contact Ausgrid and gets an idea of cost. It may be that this is not that much of a drama - or it could be quite expensive if new poles are required. If they won’t give an idea of cost, they may at least be willing to supply a list of qualified contractors who service the area.


Private property powerlines lines in Queensland have been the responsibility of the landowner for many decades, here are the relevant websites:

In Queensland and expect also applies in other states, many landowners building new houses (either first house on the land or replacing their house on another part of the land) often find the cost to pole power to the house expensive and cheaper to install self generation and storage (off grid system). The network provider (Energex/Ergon in Qld) are onIy responsible for providing power to the property boundary, which is usually the first pole just within the property. It is the landowners responsibility thereafter for installation, maintenance and replacement.

In urban areas, the same principles apply where the network operator is only responsible to the connection point to the house (which is often just inside the boundary, that being the connection from the house directly to the public/community electricity infrastructure in the street). Many people think the network operator is responsible to the meter, but this is not the case. The home owner is responsible for any wiring from the house connection point (often on the front wall of the house) or the pole located just inside the property boundary, to the meter. The reason for this is it can be difficult for a network operator to access the power line/wiring after the connection point without legal access provisions in place (such as easement, servitudes etc). These access provision would be an encumbrance on the land title and may impact on land values.


According to my neighbours, the change probably happened about the time Ausgrid took over from Energy Australia. Energy Australia did all of the routine inspection and maintenance on power lines up to the house. Trimming vegetation, treating poles for termites, etc.

Apparently, there were notices issued with the (paper) electricity accounts five years or so ago, to the effect that customers are responsible for organising regular inspections on the poles & wires as well. That’s news to me (and to most of the locals that I’ve spoken to). When I asked who they got to do the work, none had actually done it. That probably explains why Ausgrid is now carrying out inspections and issuing notices.

Whether there’s been a change in legislation or just in practice, it seems to me that things are a lot less safe now than they were. It would be interesting to find out what changed (legislation, regulation or practice) and why they backed off on customers being responsible for inspections. Did someone die? I wish I had the time and skills - there’s probably a story in it.


What you say is right but things get more complicated if the network provider has an easement over your property for other reasons (e.g. supply to adjoining properties or “just because”), as is not uncommon in rural areas. In that case your responsibility may commence at a point closer than the property boundary, saving you money in the short term (on an ongoing basis) but potentially reflecting in a decreased property value at time of purchase and at time of sale.


They aren’t worried about that. They are worried about liability. As long as it is your responsibility, if something goes wrong, you can fight it out with your insurer.

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Have spoken to mate who works in the industry and he says that the trigger for the recent notices is not from a ‘change in ownership or responsibility of the poles’, but a new policy adopted by the NSW government in response to bushire preparedness.

The NSW government now requires network operators (and its contractors) to be more proactive in assessing bushfire risks and taking necessary actions, where necessary to reduce any risks. He thinks that the change resulted partly from the findings of the Victoria bushfire inquiry (and other recent fire events) and government implementing measures to protect the broader community, from the potential devastation of electricity network ignited fires. It is possibly the government stepping in to protect thise which chose not to protect themselves or others.

He also suggested that if a landholer has an issue with this approach, to take it up with their state member rather than the network operator, Ausgrid, as it is the state which has made the recent changes and the network operator is only following the direction issued by the state.

In relation to pole responsibilities in NSW, Ausgrid website provides diagrams showing the delineations in a numher of different scenarios…

The delineations seem similar to that in Queensland.

Yes, easements are also used for public/community infrastructure where there is a number of properties haning off the one line or for the higher voltage network (430V-500kV). They aren’t often used for private powerlines unless the network operstor has taken over the responsibilities for the line or the line crosses another property other than the one it provides the service to…such as a major user trsnsferring responsibilities to the network provider as the major user doesn’t want the responsibility. In Queensland these include connections to things like railways, smelthers, mining etc.

In some cases easement may not be used where say a few properties are serviced by the one line…see the Ausgrid website as it has example of these. The Ausvrid website also indicates who is responsible for the line servicing such properties.

Edit…just found this on the Ausgrid website that confirms the some of the above.

See the FAQs:

It appears the bushfire management changes have been legislated.


I think that is the explanation. I cannot find any changes in legislation or regulation (doesn’t mean it isn’t there). What I do find is statements that the activity is authorised by the Electricity Supply Act 1995. Ausgrid was formed in 2011.

I suspect that the change is not in responsibility for private poles from network to landholder but the network is taking action where they didn’t do so before. Perhaps DropBear could ask Ausgrid?

If it is the case that Ausgrid is now making up for previous neglect hopefully this will improve safety.


It could be also the private pole line owner (landholder) not managing the bushfire risks which in the event of a bushfire, not only impacts on the landowners property but potentially the wider community/region.

I suspect as a result of the Victorian fires, where poor maintence of a private line results in a bush fire, there may be liability issues for the pole owner.

The NSW government may have decided it was time to intervene in the maintenance of private pole lines to reduce landowner/pole owner liabilities as well as protecting the broader community.

As the private pole lines have been owned privately by landholders for many decades in other states, I suspect that NSW would be no different. This is something which coukd be asked of the NSW state government when full responsibility of pole lines were transferred to the landholder…if in fact there was a transfer and the pole lines were not always the landholder’s responsibility.

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The Act has been extensively modified since 1995. As to regulations, I don’t even know where to start looking.

I can only say with certainty that, up to a point in time, all necessary routine inspection and maintenance was carried out by the infrastructure owner (it was not, in practice, a responsibility of the customer). Somewhere along the way, that changed. Inasmuch as most customers seem unaware, the change was evidently managed very poorly.

It does seem that death and destruction resulting from poorly maintained infrastructure has motivated a retreat from the ruinous extreme. Sadly, they’re still doing a poor job (OK, they’re doing a good job of arse-covering).

This is a good example (bottom of the page):

So Ausgrid authorises a contractor, but that doesn’t mean that the contractor is able or suitable. :thinking:

I am on a rural electricity service, I have my own transformer, my nearest neighbour is 400m away. My system (or the feeder line) has been struck by lightning many times usually blowing the tranny fuzes. The transformer has been replaced 4 (or maybe 5) times in 15 years, one strike fried half the appliances in my house, exploded various things and set fire to the tranny. I am used to dealing with my network people. My experience is poles apart %% from yours.

My neighbours are all fine folks (they are, no sarcasm) but they are not well aware of what is going on in the world, they do not deal with any kind of authority well and do not trust any organisations from outside the valley, especially utilities and anyone with any power over them or their land. They prefer to talk to each other than ask. If half the energy expended on the rumour mill went into fact checking they would know twice as much.

As Humplebert Engadinck put it
“The trouble with folks is not what they don’t know it’s what they know that just ain’t so”.

Ausgrid may well have handled the change poorly but don’t rely on word of mouth to tell you an accurate history unless your neighbours are saintly compared to mine.

%% The urge comes on me and I can’t withstand it, I have sought help but to no avail. It’s too far to go to regular meetings. :pensive:

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Quote police on the job :wink:

Quote Investigator: Scholars at the Center for Mark Twain Studies of Elmira College have found no substantive evidence supporting the ascription to Mark Twain.

The observation has been attributed to several other prominent humorists including: Josh Billings (pseudonym of Henry Wheeler Shaw), Artemus Ward (pseudonym of Charles Farrar Browne), Kin Hubbard (pen name of Frank McKinney Hubbard), and Will Rogers. Yet, it is unlikely then any of them said it. The creator remains anonymous based on current evidence.

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At our most recent inspection (within last year or two), the network owner, or their contractor (I think it was their contractor), just did the work and without charging us. (They notified us in advance that they would be entering our property to do that.)

Based on your experience, that might be the last time we get a freebie. :frowning:

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I think we need to clarify the difference between any work on your property and on private poles and wires. Tree cutters still maintain the wire clearance on network owned lines that cross via easements at their expense. In my case this also applies to the low voltage link from the transformer (on their pole) to my house that goes over my land.

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My understanding is that it would be private poles and wires but that’s not something that I have really checked.

I’ve asked around to fill out the story a bit. Details will vary from state to state, time to time and region to region. What follows is specific to the old Shortland County Council (SCC) area from the early 1980s.

The infrastructure in question was built in 1981 under the SCC. Affixed to what are now termed “private poles” were metal alphanumeric plates. Aparently, SCC (and later Shortland Electricity, then EnergyAustralia) staff referred to them as “asset identifiers” or something similar. I remember those plates. When they disappeared, nobody can say, but it was probably about the time Ausgrid took over.

Up to and (probably) including the EnergyAustralia days, routine inspection and maintenance on what are now termed “private mains” (poles & wires) were carried out by crews employed by the network owner, while they were attending to the rest of the network. That included things like trimming vegetation and termite treatment. The fact that the poles were individually identified implies that any work associated with them would have been recorded and accounted for. I wonder what happened to those records?

Minor work was just done. If something major was required, then the customer would be notified. The notice included a quote to do the job. Cost was the customer’s responsibility. The network owner took responsibility for the work.

By all accounts, the electricity network is degrading (much as the copper 'phone network degraded after Telstra was privatised). Legislative changes affect only who will be held responsible for the inevitable. Which brings us back to the title of this topic.

Anyway, I’ve emailed Ausgrid. I’ve also been given the name of a local contractor who might be qualified to help.

[Edit 8 July]
No response from Ausgrid (beyond an automated acknowledgement).

Local contractor says he’s not qualified. Nor is anyone else in the immediate area. He referred me to a firm from a bit further afield. I found them on the Yellow Pages site and used the ‘Request Quote’ feature.


This is the text from Ausgrid’s reply:

The attached PDF is 91 pages long. Contact addresses are from all over Australia and there’s no indication of which contractors serve which areas. Just as well I know people I can ask. I reckon life was much simpler when I had a paper 'phone book.

I’ve accepted a quote to replace the near four decades old poles and upgrade part of the feed-in to insulated bundled conductor.