Janine Batters, The Buloke Times
Over 300 community members with placards — on foot, in trucks and tractors — put their message in simple terms for the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) at St. Arnaud on Monday, regarding their views on the VNI West Transmission Project.
The protest blocked Napier Street for over an hour to send the message home to AEMO, after feeling any previous attempts had landed on deaf ears. The protest took place before a planned community consultation meeting regarding the project.
It was clear, however, that AEMO wasn’t open to listening, with the operator reneging on the commitment to attending the meeting.
Jason Barratt, St. Arnaud Young Farmer member, said: “At the last meeting, AEMO’s representatives gave us no answers. Nothing! At the webinar, all attendees were put on mute – that’s not consultation, and we are not going to stand for it! Their actions show they are completely removed from the people and communities they are claiming to be “consulting with.”
“We don’t want the transmission lines, and, as the submission put forward by Professor Bruce Mountain and Professor Simon Bartlett, AM, states, they would be a monumental mistake! It’s not hard to work out that if the people at AEMO were actively listening – as they repeatedly say they are – they could see that this project is categorically faulty. The fact that they haven’t, poses a much bigger question which needs to be examined. We will not be pawns in a political game. AEMO has chosen the wrong opponents.”
VFF St. Arnaud Branch President, Colin Coates, said AEMO’s backflip was just another example of the operator saying one thing and doing another.
“There are thousands of people in the community wanting answers – answers they have not been given. To pull out of this meeting is a disgrace! This event was the perfect platform for AEMO’s people to give these answers, and actually consult, in the true meaning of the word and not just on paper. If they cannot attend a community meeting they committed to – to do exactly what they are tasked to do, consult – how is the community to trust any future promises? Every step of the way, we have not been heard.”
While AEMO shirked its responsibilities, Professor Bruce Mountain, Director, Victoria Energy Policy Centre and Victoria University, spoke at the event, shedding further light on the project’s gross miscalculations, bias, and questionable ethics.
“The decision to commit to WRL-VNI is a decision to roughly triple charges for transmission services in Victoria,” Professor Mountain said, in explaining what he and Professor Simon Bartlett had concluded from analysing the project.
“AVP’s analysis is so detached from reality, the norms of power system engineering and energy economics analysis, and of accepted professional ethics, that a measured and constructive critique of it has been tremendously difficult. But the issues here matter greatly: AVP’s decision will have a big impact on consumers, the environment, the economy, many individuals and local communities, and on the delivery of the Victorian Government’s renewable energy policies. Therefore, we have engaged with this, and with AVP’s previous assessments.
“After this long process, we are left with no option but to conclude, on the basis of the evidence and argument in our submission, that AVP has delivered a recommendation that relies on biased, flawed and, in parts, dishonest analysis.
“We appreciate the seriousness of these allegations, but our duty to our professions leaves us with no option but to make them.”
Three resolutions were moved unanimously by VFF members at the event:
1. Instruct the Australian Energy Market Operator (Victorian Planner) to cease any further regulatory consideration of the Western Renewables Link- VNI West as soon as possible.
2. Instruct the Victorian Government to respond publicly to the issues raised in the Bartlett/Mountain Submission, including alternate forms of transmission and power.
3. We request that the Minister for Energy and Resources, State Electricity, and Climate Action, the Hon. Lily D’Ambrosio, further investigate the lack of transparency and due diligence displayed by AEMO, which has been highlighted by Professors Bartlett, AM, Mountain, and the broader community.
Federal Member for Mallee, Dr. Anne Webster, MP, and State Member for Mildura, Jade Benham, MP, and Joe McCracken, MP, attended the meeting.
Dr. Webster praised professors Bartlett, AM, and Mountain, for their courage in using their expertise to call out the botched proposal, and help not only the St. Arnaud community, but the region, Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland, which would all be impacted by the project.
“We are now planning a national protest thanks to you (the audience), showing us how it’s done. We are standing up and saying ‘NO’, there are other options; we need to hold the government to account.
“If the Government is going to spend billions of taxpayer dollars, they better make sure they spend it right. And they better be honest with those it will directly impact, as well. It appears this Government is failing on both accounts.
“The Federal and State Labour Governments need to come clean. It was very disappointing AEMO decided not to turn up.
“I will be bringing the Nationals Leader, David Littleproud, MP, to Mallee on May 1, and I know the community is keen for him to hear their concerns.”
This article appeared in The Buloke Times, 21 April 2023.