Farmers wary as state moves ahead with power lines near offshore wind

Farmers wary as state moves ahead with power lines near offshore wind

August 19, 2023

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The Andrews government is facing a fresh battle to deliver its renewable energy commitments as Gippsland locals push for underground transmission lines that could cost billions to deliver.

Labor has set a target of delivering 4GW in energy through offshore wind hubs off the coast of Portland and Gippsland by 2035, enough to power 3 million homes.

Transmission towers have become a key issue for the renewable energy transition.Credit: Joe Armao

But to do so will require building high voltage transmission lines near the coast, prompting lobbying from locals who want the transmission network built underground.

VicGrid, the government agency tasked with managing how these networks are planned, has committed to exploring all options, but previous studies have shown underground lines can cost at least three times more to build and as much as 10 to 15 times more for higher voltages.

Government consultation documents show there was support for underground wiring among those responding to the project and this would be considered alongside costs and future-proofing the network.

The issue is shaping as a major political issue in regional Victoria and has divided sections of Victorian Labor amid concerns of local campaigns in seats outside Melbourne and at the city’s edge.

Transmission towers planned through Ballarat, western Victoria and up to the New South Wales border have sparked protests from farmers and managing community reactions to this became a key debate at the party’s state conference.

The next challenge for the Andrews government will be building community support for similar towers needed for its wind farm hubs off the coast of Gippsland and Portland wind farms.

Locals living in the Gippsland Renewable Energy Zone have spent the last two years railing against the proposed routes that run through their properties.

VicGrid has taken control of the process and is ramping up community consultation, but Stradbroke local Gwen Macnee said she was concerned the agency would likely endorse the same corridor she had fought against that cut through her farmland.

The Andrews government has set ambitious targets for offshore wind generation in Victoria.

She said this would make it difficult to use the land and equipment and could turn it into a development zone for the next 20 years.

“They will build an easement and go ‘Oh, we need another one’,” Macnee said. “They’re going to (eventually) do 10GW of offshore, we’re not stupid.”

Macnee said she wanted authorities to better consider landowners, including putting lines towards the edge of properties.

VicGrid chief executive Alistair Parker said the government needed to start planning essential transmission now to meet its targets, with consultation for the Gippsland and Portland corridors still open.

“We want all Victorians to share the benefits of this once-in-a-generation shift and have already begun engaging communities to ensure their views are considered as part of assessment criteria for these projects,” he said.

Victorian Farmers Federation president Emma Germano said the government had failed to plan for the energy transition and now farmers across the state were at the front of the transmission issue.

“The government can’t continue to ignore the mounting opposition to these planned projects and they must act immediately and reassess, before they do irreversible damage to Victoria’s farmland,” she said.

Some farmers fear AusNet’s compensation will not cover future losses of land value and limitations to farming practices.Credit: Joe Armao

But Nexa Advisory chief executive Stephanie Bashir said consumers would pay more if governments couldn’t connect renewable energy projects to the grid, forcing them to subsidise coal-fired power.

“Every year of delay in expanding the transmission needed, especially for the projects that have been announced as of national significance, has a huge impact on the electricity prices,” she said.

“Victoria is impacted the most.”

RE-Alliance Victoria and Tasmania co-ordinator Tony Goodfellow said there was a lack of leadership from governments in explaining why big projects were needed to transition to renewable energy.

“While speed is critical, fairness is equally important,” he said.

“Landholders who host renewable energy generation and renewable transmission projects are key players and should be recognised and acknowledged.”

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