The Origins of Unison

The 1990s

The 1990s was the period of most significant organisational change for the electrical industry in New Zealand.

The Energy Companies Act 1992 allowed for the corporatisation of the Electricity Boards, changing the ownership to one of shareholdings, with the option of vesting the shares into Trust ownership, a popular choice at that time, around New Zealand.

The Act resulted in the establishment of Hawke’s Bay Power in 1993. All shares were vested in the Hawke’s Bay Power Consumers’ Trust [HBPCT].

In 1998, the retail business of the Company was sold to Contact Energy Ltd, and the remaining lines business became Hawkes Bay Network Limited.

2000 and Beyond

In 2002, Hawke’s Bay Network also acquired the Taupo and Rotorua electricity distribution assets of United Networks Limited and Vector Limited.

In 2003 the company changed its name and became Unison Networks Limited.

Trust Ownership

Unison is 100% owned by the Hawke’s Bay Power Consumers’ Trust [HBPCT]. HBPCT was formed in 1993 and is an elected body with 5 Trustees who act on behalf of the consumer-owners of Unison. As a 100% consumer-trust owned company, the consumers in the Hawke’s Bay network region are the beneficial owners of the Company. The consumer-owners elect the Trustees every three years. The Trust Deed, which is a legally binding document, sets out the rules under which the Trustees are bound to operate.

The Trustees also appoint the Directors of Unison.

The Directors and Trustees have the alternative ownership option available to them now. It would not be an unusual step for them to make the change and distribute the shares to the beneficial owners. Other Trusts have done so.

Napier coverage area

Hastings coverage area

Other Trusts

There a number of examples where Trusts were terminated following the distribution of shares in the relevant lines company. Some were bought by other Trusts. Others were sold and through a variety of mergers and acquisitions were renamed as new owners took control. In each case the original shareholders were paid out in cash.

Some examples:

Wellington and Hutt Valley

In accordance with the Energy Companies Act 1992 two new companies Capital Power and Energy Direct were formed in 1992. In 1996 Canadian power company TransAlta acquired both companies to form a consolidated electricity distribution network business. Ownership was passed to United Networks in 1998, which Vector acquired in 2003. In 2008 the network was purchased by offshore businesses, creating Wellington Electricity Lines Limited (Wellington Electricity). Wellington Electricity has re-established its Corporate office in Wellington and has New Zealand Directors.

Nelson Electricity

Nelson Electricity Limited, the Trust, was created in accordance with the Energy Companies Act 1992. In 1996, the Nelson City Council sold 50% of its shares in NEL to Network Tasman and the other 50% to Marlborough Lines.


OtagoNet was formed as a joint venture in 2002 following the purchase of the assets of the consumer co-operative Otago Power limited.


PowerCo, which is now owned by Australian companies, is the largest distributor of electricity in New Zealand, providing power to customers in Taranaki, Whanganui, Manawatu, Wairarapa, Coromandel and Bay of Plenty. It was formed through a number of acquisitions of other power distributors from 1998 onwards.

Eastland Network

During 2022 the Eastland Network business was considering a potential sale of the business and assets. Trust Tairāwhiti was the direct shareholder and the Trust Deed applied, similar to other power distribution Trusts. The Network business was sold in March 2023 to Firstgas Group, a private infrastructure company owned by Igneo Infrastructure Partners. The sale price was $257.7 million, significantly above the asset book value of Eastland Network, which was $190 million.

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