Environment Minister grilled over KNP power lines

Environment Minister Matt Kean (left) said it was important to achieve a balance between cost and environmental considerations when it came to new transmission lines linked to Snowy 2.0.

Environment Minister Matt Kean has said he would ‘consider’ directing Snowy Hydro to include the option for underground transmission cables as well as above ground in Kosciuszko National Park, whilst appearing before a budget estimates hearing on Tuesday.

A draft amendment to the KNP management plan would require all transmission lines to be located underground, “except those constructed as part of the Snowy 2.0 project.”

Environmental group National Parks Association (NPA), as well as state independent’s – such as Member for Wagga Wagga Dr Joe McGirr – have all called for Snowy Hydro transmission infrastructure to be built underground in the KNP.

As it stands, the Snowy 2.0 Transmission Connection Project would see the installation of two new double-circuit 330kV transmission lines. At around 9km long, the transmission lines would go through the KNP and neighbouring Bago State Forest from the Snowy Hydro 2.0 generator site to a new switching station in Maragle.

During the Tuesday hearing, Mr Kean was asked why the government had granted an exception to Snowy Hydro for its transmission lines. He responded that this was in order to get “cheap, reliable and clean energy into the system as soon as possible.”

“We have got to get the balance right between making sure that we get that energy into the system but we do it in a way where there is minimum impact on the park,” he continued. 

“We are currently looking at how best to minimise the cost whilst at the same time having the least amount of impact on the national park.”

Mr Kean said that where there is no great material difference between tunnelling and overhead cabling, an underground option should be considered. However, he also suggested that any economic boost to the community by getting “cheap, reliable and clean energy into the grid” would be a major consideration.

Mr Kean reiterated that the government would look at different options available for the energy project, however the Chair noted that Snowy Hydro had not been required to document underground cabling as an option.

It was heard that the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) will conduct an environmental assessment of the transmission line, with the planning Minister to make an ultimate decision.

James Hay of the DPIE said that if any assessment results in the conclusion that the transmission lines should go underground, the matter will go back to Snowy Hydro.

“If they have not assessed it, then they will have to look at it at that point,” he said.

Mr Kean agreed that in his position it is possible for him to direct Snowy Hydro to include the option for transmission cables to go underground as well as above.

Mr Kean replied “Yes” when asked if he would consider doing this, and when pushed for a commitment to do so, he said, “The EIS is the appropriate place to consider different proposals and the impact that they will have on the environment and then we will have to consider that.”

The Environment Minister also commented that transmission lines through national parks are “not unusual.”