TransGrid’s HumeLink proposal was raised in the NSW Parliament this week by Member for Wagga Wagga Dr Joe McGirr, who called on the Minister for Energy and Environment Matt Kean to clarify what the company’s community consultation process will involve.
The HumeLink project, which has not yet been approved by the Australian Energy Regulator, would connect a Snowy 2.0 substation at Maragle with Wagga and the metropolitan grid, forming a triangle of 500kV power lines through the Snowy Valleys.
Farming communities across the LGA have joined together in recent weeks to speak out against the current route for the HumeLink project, which is set to go through a number of properties.
Residents of the Willigobung, Lower Bago and Yaven Creek communities held a meeting in late July, forming a committee and coming together to share their concerns. An additional committee has also been formed, titled ‘Adjungbilly to Batlow HumeLink Action Group’, to represent affected landholders and community members.
“Will the Minister ensure appropriate, meaningful, face-to-face consultation with all those affected indirectly or directly by the infrastructure and give genuine consideration to alternative routes?” asked Dr McGirr to Mr Kean on Tuesday.
Mr Kean responded that the HumeLink project, as well as the similar EnergyConnect project (which would link NSW, South Australia and Victoria with a 900km long transmission line), are “critically important” for the future of NSW.
“We need to ensure that we bring affected local communities with us,” Mr Kean said. “I want to find ways to absolutely maximise the benefits of new energy infrastructure but to do so in a way that respects the concerns of local communities and seeks to work with them.”
When speaking broadly about the changes that NSW is set to experience in its energy system in the coming years, Mr Kean called the two TransGrid projects “non-negotiables.”
“Four of our five existing power stations are retiring over the next 15 years, taking large amounts of generation and capacity out of the grid,” Mr Kean said.
“These must be replaced before they close to avoid price spikes and also blackouts. So this infrastructure is critically important to the future of our state – they are non-negotiables.
“As many would also be aware, the new energy infrastructure is being built across many parts of the State, including the Central West, New England and, of course, at Cooma with the Snowy Hydro project.”
Mr Kean said that in order to get the new electricity to market and access the additional capacity, transmission infrastructure needs to be built; including HumeLink.
“HumeLink is essential not only for Snowy 2.0 to dispatch its power to the grid but also for getting more power out of the existing Snowy Hydro generators, which are currently constrained by the lack of transmission capacity.”
Both TransGrid projects are in the early stages of planning and assessment, and Mr Kean stressed that at this point no final approval has been given for the route of either project.
“We have one of the most robust planning systems here in New South Wales to look for every opportunity to maximise the positives and minimise the negatives of the route design to ensure that genuine consultation takes place with local communities,” Mr Kean said.
Both projects will be subject to assessment requirements under the New South Wales Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, also requiring additional approval from the Commonwealth under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. These processes include statutory requirements for consultation, including a minimum 28-day public exhibition period and “requirement to give genuine consideration to alternative route options,” according to Mr Kean.
TransGrid says it has conducted more than 1800 direct contacts with regional stakeholders and landholders since late 2019, ranging from council briefings, meetings with directly affected landowners, phone calls and direct correspondence via email. Mr Kean said that TransGrid has also engaged directly with 363 affected property owners.
Speaking to the Parliament again on Wednesday, Dr McGirr said “it seems that community concerns are not taken seriously,” voicing the concerns of locals that face-to-face consultation has been lacking.
“We know new sources of energy and an upgraded electricity grid are critical for our future, but so are the concerns of our communities,” Dr McGirr began.
“[Local residents] have a view that any future consultation will be little more than ticking a box. I recognise the limitations that the current pandemic is placing on us, but it is possible to have face-to-face consultation with the right precautions.”
Dr McGirr said that the consultation that has occurred so far, mainly electronic and restricted to those farmers whose properties fall within the proposed corridor, is “simply not good enough, particularly after the devastation caused by the summer bushfires.”
“These are people who truly understand the region. Landowners have pointed out to me that there are alternative routes available, but if there is no meaningful discussion with them, then important information on alternative routes will be overlooked,” Dr McGirr said.
The Wagga MP concluded that people living in regional and rural Australia must be involved in the decisions that are being made about them.
“Regional and rural people understand the importance of the environment. Indeed, for farmers like those in the Yaven Creek Valley, Kyeamba, Adjungbilly and Batlow, preserving the land for future generations is vital. They understand the energy needs of our future and they must not be ignored; we need to hear their concerns. It has been hard enough for our country to craft a way forward on the issue of energy and environment. We must not ignore the genuine voices of our people and our communities, otherwise we will only make the challenges we face even harder to meet in this absolutely critical area,” Dr McGirr said.