In Unison Networks Ltd v Solar City New Zealand Ltd  [2017] NZHC 1343, the New Zealand High Court held that the Electricity Rulings Panel does not have broad residual jurisdiction to consider matters beyond what is specifically provided for in the legislative scheme. 

The case arose from a complaint laid with the Electricity Authority by Solar City about new delivery prices payable for electricity provided by Unison Networks.  Solar City alleged that Unison Networks' delivery prices were in breach of "pricing principles" contained in part 6 of the Code that governs the electricity industry.  However the Electricity Authority, when considering the complaint, declined to take any action on the basis that part 6 did not apply in the circumstances.  Solar City then sought to lay a complaint directly with the Rulings Panel.

The Panel concluded that it did not have any specific jurisdiction to consider the dispute under the Electricity Industry (Enforcement) Regulations 2010 (Regulations), which specify how disputes are to be determined.  However, the Panel considered that it nonetheless had a broad residual discretion to hear the dispute, under r 76(1) of the Regulations, and also s 50(4) of the Electricity Industry Act 2010 (Act), from which the Regulations were derived.

The High Court held that the Electricity Rulings Panel was incorrect in that conclusion.  Thomas J considered that Parliament had intended the Panel's jurisdiction to be restricted to disputes of a kind specifically identified as being referable to the Panel.  The Regulations and the Code outlined a detailed and comprehensive scheme for the handling of disputes.  The Panel could only exercise its powers subject to those provisions.  The Panel had no residual jurisdiction to hear the complaint in the circumstances. 

Thomas J held that this outcome was sound as a matter of legal policy.  The legislative scheme provided sufficient oversight of the Electricity Authority's powers, and the interpretation against a broad residual discretion would not be contrary to rules of natural justice.  This was because Solar City had the option to appeal the Electricity Authority's decision to the High Court on a point of law, or to apply for judicial review.  Thomas J considered it entirely principled that if a complaint cannot pass the prima facie threshold for investigation, then there should be no further avenue for challenge other than review or appeal in the High Court.

Laura O'Gorman of Buddle Findlay acted as counsel for the Electricity Authority.

See the Court's decision here.