The Essential Services Commission (ESC) has released a draft Land Access Code of Practice to regulate how energy transmission companies access private land when undertaking new projects or significant upgrades. The code will be critical as we see new transmission projects emerge to support the energy transition.
The code aims to balance the rights of landowners and occupiers with the need for transmission companies to access land to provide essential services.
The code will require transmission companies to:
•Consult with and provide relevant information to affected parties prior to accessing land. According to the code, “An electricity transmission company must consult with affected parties and other parties interested in land in accordance with this Part 2 prior to accessing land in accordance with an access agreement or by exercising its access powers under section 93 of the Act.”
•Provide advance notice of at least 20 business days to landowners and occupiers before accessing their land. According to the code, “A notice of access must: (a) be given at least 20 business days after providing information on the proposed access in accordance with clause 6.2.1 and at least 10 business days prior to the start of the access period…”
•Minimise the impact of accessing land by “caus[ing] as little harm, inconvenience and damage as possible to the land, as well as to anything living on or growing on the land.”
•Address environmental risks such as fire, biosecurity, and health risks. For example, the code states: “An electricity transmission company must:…(b) implement policies and procedures to identify and mitigate fire risks in a manner consistent with its bushfire mitigation plan; and (c) provide affected parties with a copy of its bushfire mitigation plan and any other relevant policies and procedures on request.”
•Establish a complaint handling process and participate in an approved customer dispute resolution scheme. According to the code, “Prior to accessing land, an electricity transmission company that proposes to access land under section 93 of the Act for new transmission projects or significant upgrades must enter into a customer dispute resolution scheme approved by the commission for the purpose of this clause and remain a participant in that scheme while any access under section 93 of the Act is being considered or undertaken.”
•Submit monthly reports to the ESC on land access activities, compliance, and complaints. For example, the code states: “An electricity transmission company that is developing a new transmission project or is undertaking significant upgrades on existing transmission projects must provide to the commission monthly reports containing the matters, and in the form and manner, required by this Code of Practice.”
Overall, the code aims to increase transparency around transmission companies’ access to private land and ensure appropriate safeguards are in place to balance the rights and interests of all parties. Following consultation, the finalised code will take effect in 2023. Transmission companies would be well served by thoroughly reviewing the draft code and providing input to help shape the final requirements. Carefully following the eventual code will help companies maintain their social license to operate when accessing private land.