A farmers' group in the Waikato yesterday gave warning that an $824 million pylon project due to start next month may lead to standoffs between farmers and Transpower.

Matangi farmer Steve Meier remains adamant he has no problem with the grid operator working on the high-voltage lines on his property but says Transpower has acted unlawfully by not warning him it was carrying out maintenance.

He is also seeking compensation for the lines on his land.

A fire in a shelterbelt of about 50 of Mr Meier's pines on Monday, believed to have started when lines above them arced, cut power to more than 50,000 homes from Waikato to Cape Reinga.

Stew Wadey, of Waikato Federated Farmers, yesterday said the new North Island Grid Upgrade Project could create similar problems.

The lines will be put up between Whakamaru, near Tokoroa, and Otahuhu in South Auckland, Transpower yesterday said it had bought about 80 properties of the 314 affected by the upgrade, with the remaining landowners being compensated.

However, Mr Wadey said he wouldn't be surprised that when work started, landowners would not allow contractors on to their properties.

"I have told the Hamilton area commander of police it is a serious issue of mine. A lot of landowners who are under similar strife and getting unfair deals are taking a similar stance to Mr Meier."

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 new lines will be capable of carrying 400kV but will initially be operated at 220kV and cranked up by 2030.

Mr Meier yesterday apologised for any inconvenience his protest had caused.

"Our position has always been that we will allow any trimming or other proposed work on our property provided any legal requirements are met. We, like the rest of New Zealand, are disappointed that an obvious routine maintenance work item was neglected to the point where thousands of New Zealanders lost power.

"We apologise for any offence we may have given and hope that this explanation is accepted. We cannot accept responsibility for TPNZ's failure to do routine trimming work which was the direct cause of the outage. We accept that we have an obligation to act responsibly and within the law and will do so at all times.

"I'm not a lawbreaker, yet I'm treated like a terrorist."

Transpower spokeswoman Rebecca Wilson said the company was yet to negotiate a deal with about 100 landowners for the big upgrade.

"We've certainly got a few negotiations to get through."

Engineers New Zealand yesterday said the power cuts were another illustration of the vulnerability of electricity to historic underinvestment.

"If New Zealanders want security of supply, they need to be ready to pay for it. Security means having an alternative way to get electricity to all consumers when something goes wrong."

BATTLE LINES LONG DRAWN

The battle between the Matangi farmer and the power company started in July 2006 when Transpower contractors entered Steve Meier's property to carry out maintenance work.

He claims he received no warning they were coming and his wife, Delia, the only one home at the time, spent an hour trying to get them off her land.

Since then, Transpower has been back about half a dozen times and either accessed the lines or decided against entering, the Meiers' lawyer, Paul Cassin, says. The couple say on some occasions no notice was given.

In October 2006, Mr Meier attended a Federated Farmers meeting after Transpower announced a thermal upgrade to lines over his farm, going from Whakamaru to Auckland, which would see the amount of electricity transported through them increased.

Several of the farmers demanded compensation for the inconvenience of housing Transpower's structures. It is understood that up to 1000 landowners were affected. Transpower has no obligation to pay and has a right to enter properties for maintenance work.

Part of the upgrade has been completed but the grid operator is to continue updating the lines and needs access to Mr Meier's property.

A meeting was held in March last year between Transpower, the Meiers and Mr Cassin so the couple could explain how they had been treated by the national grid operator and discuss future work.

Mr Cassin said he asked for a proposal on what work was to be done on the lines, including maintenance and upgrades. Almost a year later, Mr Cassin says they are still awaiting the proposal.