Touted as the biggest thing since irrigation by Gannawarra Shire Council mayor, Charlie Gillingham, the VNI West project is set to stamp its 70-metre-high 500KV power lines across the landscape and skyline.
One of the project’s biggest advocates has been Gannawarra Shire Council (GSC) itself with a transmission company spokesperson confirming the only reason the project is “this far west” has been the Council’s push for a terminal station to sprout an explosion in wind and solar farm. Councillor Ross Stanton confirming 70 farmers are keen to see their paddocks turned from greenery to green energy, banking the green.
Projections over the benefits to Gannawarra residents has been hotly contested as the prospect of jobs and future employment seems scant.
“Right now, state government proposing a 500KV power line through Gannawarra, a power line that will impact farms in its path, a power line that is opposed by a significant portion of the community and a power line that by this Council’s own admission has little benefit during its construction phase, no benefit afterwards and no jobs in Gannawarra,” said Councillor Garner Smith at the September GSC meeting.
Cr Smith had proposed a motion to Council which read, ‘Given that the ongoing benefits to the general community of the proposed VNI West interconnector are negligible, the Gannawarra Council support for this project is dependent on the electricity generated by the renewable energy projects within Gannawarra Shire being supplied to Gannawarra Shire residents and businesses at the feed in tariff.’
While the motion appeared to have general support, a majority of councillors sought to water down the demand to a more bureaucratically palatable position.
“So, there’s 10 or more jobs in Gannawarra, 10 jobs we haven’t got today. That’s a considerable amount for us at the moment,” said Cr Ross Stanton in support of his motion and the prosperity the power lines will bring to Gannawarra Shire.
The alternate bureaucratically friendly version appeared less likely to risk the council’s golden ticket of PiLor payments and worked within the existing framework. Councillor Stanton stated, “Unfortunately, the current regulatory environment, there’s no mechanism for transmission to providers in the national energy market to guarantee locally generated energy supplies or tariffs with prices set by Australian energy regulator.”
The amendment read that Council explore and develop the opportunity to increase local access to locally produced renewable energy through community benefit sharing arrangements and micro grid facilities with individual renewable energy developers, either directly or in partnership with retailers through local power purchase agreements behind the meter arrangements or retail offerings.
Councillor Smith spoke in support of his motion against as the amendments loomed. “I think it sets a very clear tone about what we’re trying to achieve and what we expected to come out of it.
“I would actually contend that Councillor Stanton’s motion goes nowhere.
“We are now in a rare opportunity to actually negotiate something. The VNI West needs cooperation from councillors and landholders at this point in time.
“Right now, we can, you know, for want of a better word, demand something because this is the moment when they need us.
“And if we advocate, we’ll get to the point where they actually don’t need us.
“I don’t know who here has been on the other end of a bureaucrat trying to work something out with them, but they’re all cooperative until they don’t need to be and then it’s just rulebook, rulebook, rulebook.”
During the debate, Cr Stanton mentioned that Transmission Company Victoria (TCV), who is in charge of the Victorian stretch of VNI West cannot force access or compulsorily acquire land. This is true currently, TCV cannot seek approval to compulsorily acquire easements or access land under section 93 of the Electricity Industry Act 2000 (Vic) (the EIA) unless they hold a transmission licence. Though this may change as TCV is currently in the process of applying for a transmission licence. A TCV spokesperson stated TCV is committed to working collaboratively with landholders to discuss VNI West, answer any questions about the project and negotiate access to their land where required.
In the end, Cr Stanton’s amendment passed, 5 to 1.
This article appeared in The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper, 28 September 2023.