As state and federal governments continue their push to renewables, the mad scramble to build 10,000 kilometres of new power lines by 2030 has rural communities across the eastern seaboard not only gravely concerned about the social and environmental impacts, but also methodology.
Last week, the NSW parliamentary inquiry into the feasibility of undergrounding HumeLink was released with the government members of the committee siding with the project.
Finding, in considering all the evidence, the current plan for constructing HumeLink as a 500kV overhead transmission line is the correct approach, especially given the applicable regulatory environment and the lack of any action to date in progressing the undergrounding option.
Independent MP for Murray, Helen Dalton, has slammed the inquiry’s recommendations, arguing that key evidence has just been ignored.
“Even before this inquiry began, Chris Minns had already said on Sydney radio that undergrounding these power lines would be too expensive,” she said.
A dissenting statement was issued from committee members Wes Fang MLC, The Nationals and Hon Taylor Martin MLC, Liberal Party, listing the report as “nothing short of a profound disappointment”.
“In just about every conceivable way, the report fails to accurately capture the evidence and objections from community members and the landholders who will be directly or indirectly impacted.
“Legitimate issues, which were raised in the submissions, were canvassed in evidence and were evaluated during the hearings, have been overlooked or minimised within this report.
“The evidence from TransGrid that undergrounding is difficult and costly belies the fact that they have not done the detailed work in relation to costing or feasibility.”
NSW Greens Senator Cate Faehrmann’s dissenting statement read: “It is extremely disappointing that, after the overwhelming evidence received by this committee about the benefits of undergrounding transmission lines compared with overhead, that this report contains just the one finding, which was only supported by government members.”
Many locals had attended the Deniliquin hearing of the committee arranged by Member for Murray Helen Dalton. In total, 301 submissions and 15 supplementary submissions were received by the committee, who held five public hearings.
Moulamein farmer, Peter Redfearn, who produces rice and has been involved in a lot of conservation work on his property told the committee in Deniliquin, “There are four endangered birds recorded on my place, including the ones that I’ve been releasing in a captive breeding program.
“We’ve released about 70 bush stone-curlews, which are endangered in New South Wales. The painted snipe, the Australasian bittern and the ground cuckoo-shrike are regularly recorded on my properties.
“The problem we’ve had with the bush stone-curlews is colliding with the single-wire earth return power lines, which are single – quite a small-scale thing compared to what we’re looking forward to. From my point of view, for the wildlife, it will be a damn disaster, apart from all the restrictions on our farming operation.”
The impacts to food production and farm enterprises have been continually highlighted by communities in the proposed route, but equally, the environmental concerns as the proposed route attempts to traverse across the diverse floodplain delta rich with endangered species and rich cultural heritage sites.
The risk of fire has also been a reoccurring theme, not only for transmission line but for wind and solar farms.
A study by Firetrace International indicates that solar farm fires are seeing a sharp rise.
The report, ‘Hidden Danger – why solar farm fire risk could be greater than you think’, highlights that the industry could possibly be misjudging the threat of fire and that it urgently needs to address the issue. The number of fires increased more quickly than growth of installations in some markets.
Statistics revealed by the Australian PV Institute showed that between 2018 and 2020, PV installations increased less than three-fold. The data from Fire and Rescue New South Wales, however, reveals that the number of solar fires attended by firefighters in the same period rose six-fold.
Ms Sally Dye, a landholder between Deniliquin and Moulamein who has 17 kilometres of power line planned to run through the middle of her property, told the committee, “Climate change is upon us, and the problem we have is 45-degree days where we are – stinking hot north-westerly dry winds. If we’re expecting more extreme events under climate change, the way it pans out, out our way, is that we end up with the winds and dust storms.
“Now, everyone knows dust and smoke create arcing from these major power lines and start fires. Our nearest neighbours are 18 kilometres to the east, 18 kilometres to the west, and there’s two or three of us living on our property at any one time.
“There is nobody to fight fires out there and if it’s going to happen more often, we are so at risk. Fire insurance is becoming increasingly prohibitively expensive, as with all insurance with climate change.”
The report came with two recommendations, that the NSW Government considers the viability of changing the New South Wales planning framework to require:
- a comprehensive cumulative impact study to be undertaken before any renewable energy zone (REZ) is declared; and
- community consultation on any proposed REZ to start at the scoping stage to allow adequate consideration of viable alternatives.
And that the NSW Government considers the creation of an independent ombudsman to oversee consultation upon, and rollout of, renewable energy projects and transmission infrastructure in New South Wales and to receive and handle complaints about these processes.
This article appeared in The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper, 7 September 2023.