Thursday, June 13, 2024

VNI West under scrutiny again

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The political dream of net zero requires a complete reversal of Australia’s power grid. The once concentrated coal-fired power generation fed power from a generation hub into the regions. With the food of life, carbon, on the nose, the green dream requires decentralised power generation of solar and wind spread across the countryside. Turning fields from plants and earth to concrete, precious metals, plastic and steel requires a new network of power lines.

The process for delivering the new power line capacity has been debated, with prominent energy experts calling for the Australian Energy Market Operator and the Victorian Government to scrap plans to build the controversial VNI West transmission line and Western Renewables Link (WRL). The Victoria Energy Policy Centre’s (VEPC) Professor Bruce Mountain and retired transmission expert Simon Bartlett’s report ‘No Longer in Transmission’ puts forward an alternative plan for transmission in the state, though the Victorian State Government remains steadfast with the current dream of VNI West. 

Member for Mallee Dr Anne Webster said Victorian Labor’s attempt to again reboot consultation on transmission lines is an admission consultation has failed abysmally on VNI-West.

In a media release this week, Dr Webster stated the Allan Labor Government has introduced a Bill to establish VicGrid, claiming the new brand will “modernise the way new energy infrastructure is planned and developed in Victoria while giving communities a voice in the process.”

“I have been deeply concerned about communities in Mallee who have felt voiceless and hence I have advocated for them,” Dr Webster said. 

“AEMO followed by TCV’s failed VNI West consultation were why I strongly supported protests in St Arnaud, Horsham, Melbourne and Canberra to give my community a voice. I’ve now organised meetings this Thursday in Tragowel and St Arnaud with TCV and the Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner Andrew Dyer so my constituents can be heard.

“VNI-West needs to go back to the drawing board. TCV cannot reap the reward of the botched engagement so far. Mallee families should have been properly heard and respected all along, but they have been railroaded through shambolic Clayton’s consultations by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), then AEMO’s shell Transmission Company Victoria (TCV).”

Dr Webster said Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner Andrew Dyer’s review report on community engagement condemned the failures.

92 per cent of respondents were dissatisfied at the level of engagement from renewable energy project developers and more than 90 per cent told Commissioner Dyer they were dissatisfied with the information they received or felt unconvinced that their concerns would be resolved.

Dr Webster will be hosting town hall meetings at Tragowel and St Arnaud on Thursday at 11am and 2.15pm respectively with TCV and Commissioner Dyer so that Mallee constituents can be properly heard about TCV’s poor consultation on VNI West.

On the NSW side, the Transgrid-managed leg of VNI has again fallen foul of Murray River Council, with the council calling for the undergrounding of the project. 

In a formal submission to Transgrid, Council urged decision-makers to consider the longer-term benefits of undergrounding the line.

This follows wide-spread community concern for the current proposed pathway which would see a series of high voltage transmission lines traverse through valuable agricultural land at Moulamein.

Council’s submission highlighted the following considerations:

  1. Protection of Agricultural Land: Our region boasts high-value agricultural land, which is essential for our local economy. We believe that overhead transmission lines would pose a significant risk to this vital resource. By advocating for undergrounding, we aim to safeguard our agricultural industry and the livelihoods it supports;
  2. Preservation of Natural Beauty and Tourism: The Murray River region is renowned for its natural beauty and attracts visitors from far and wide. Overhead lines would not only disrupt the scenic landscape but also hinder tourism activities. Undergrounding the transmission lines would help preserve the charm and appeal of our region for residents and visitors alike;
  3. Mitigation of Social Impacts: We recognise the social implications of infrastructure projects on our communities. Overhead transmission lines could disrupt the tranquil way of life enjoyed by our residents and jeopardise residential expansion plans. Undergrounding offers a more sustainable solution that minimises social disruption and supports the continued growth of our communities; 
  4. Cultural Sensitivity: Our region has significant cultural heritage, which must be respected and protected. We have raised concerns about the impacts on cultural sites and Indigenous communities. Undergrounding the transmission lines demonstrates our commitment to preserving our cultural heritage and respecting the values of all residents.

Mayor Frank Crawley said building energy connectors underground could avoid impacts on farming and the wider community.

“Council understands there is a desire for renewable energy initiatives, but the infrastructure to support this needs to offer the least amount of impact to the local area.

“The infrastructure is proposed to be constructed on high value irrigated cropping land, which is one of our region’s largest economic drivers. We believe this will threaten the use of this high value land by restricting agricultural activities around the proposed transmission infrastructure, drastically impacting the livelihood of primary producers.

“We therefore urge the government to reconsider their stance on underground lines.

“The cost-benefit analysis in the short-term may be quite different to long-term, but the economic and social outcomes for the community would be far more positive,” he said.

Undergrounding still remains a popular alternative for the project, which could offer a shortening of the route as many of the reasons for the project to head so far west would be bypassed. With both Victorian and NSW project operators already purchasing land in the path and for the terminal station near Kerang the appetite for a shift in direction, or construction method, may be lacking. 

The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper 7 March 2024

This article appeared in The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper, 7 March 2024.

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