Independents band together on KNP powerlines

The proposed route of the powerlines through Kosciuszko National Park.

Wagga Wagga MP Dr Joe McGirr has joined his independent colleagues in calling for Snowy Hydro transmission infrastructure to be built underground in Kosciuszko National Park.

This follows similar calls last month from the National Parks Association (NPA), who say that alternatives need to be considered to connect Snowy 2.0 to the grid, rather than the proposed overhead transmission lines.

The current 2006 KNP management plan “require[s] all additional telecommunication and transmission lines to be located underground.” However, a draft amendment by the state government – which is currently on public exhibition – adds a clause: “except those constructed as part of the Snowy 2.0 project.”

If the amendment goes through, the change would override long-standing protections to the Park.

NPA Executive Officer, Gary Dunnett, said the amendment is “yet another example of environmental laws being bypassed for Snowy 2.0.”

“This is the first time that the requirement to put any new transmission in Kosciuszko National Park underground has been put to the test, and shockingly, the Government’s response has been to strip away those protections,” Mr Dunnett continued.

“The current Plan of Management got it right, all new transmission circuits in the Park must go underground.”

These sentiments were echoed by four state Independent’s in duplicate letters to Environment Minister Matt Kean, and Planning and Public Spaces Minister, Rob Stokes.

“We were recently alarmed to learn that TransGrid proposes to connect Snowy 2.0 with overhead transmission lines through this pristine national park wilderness,” Dr McGirr wrote, along with Lake Macquarie MP Greg Piper, Sydney MP Alex Greenwich and Justin Field MLC.

“Such an impact on rare national park is unheard of anywhere else in any modern progressive democracy and in the absence of every effort being taken to avoid the use of overhead transmission, to proceed, could be seen as wilful vandalism.”

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.

An alternative touted by NPA – and backed by Dr McGirr – involves rerouting the Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro station to the Lower Tumut Switching Station (SS), rather than to the Maragle switching station.

When asked about this issue last month by The Times, TransGrid suggested that underground transmission lines had been ruled out.

“Tunnelling, trenching and directional drilling were considered but ruled out following consideration of environmental impacts, safety and future disturbance for maintenance in mind,” a TransGrid spokesperson said.

“Independent authorities will assess TransGrid’s comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement and have the final decision.”

Dr McGirr and his fellow Independents argue that the alternative suggested by NPA would have positive benefits for a separate transmission project, HumeLink.

“This option also opens up opportunities to shorten and rationalise the proposed HumeLink project, significantly reducing its impacts on local communities and landholders over hundreds of kilometres, as well as Bago State Forest,” their letter reads.

The HumeLink project has been an ongoing issue for Snowy Valleys landholders whose properties are under the path of the proposed 500kV transmission line, connecting Wagga Wagga, Bannaby and Maragle to reinforce the southern NSW network.

NPA argues that by connecting the Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro station to the Lower Tumut SS rather than Maragle, this may result in a rerouting of HumeLink and a shortening of the project by up to 40km.

“Any additional costs incurred from undergrounding transmission infrastructure must be assessed in the context of massive long-term savings from lower maintenance and higher reliability, without risks from bushfires or lightning,” the Independent’s letter continues.

“We believe it would be short-sighted to build such industrially intense infrastructure through this scenically beautiful and biodiverse-rich national reserve, leaving a greatly diminished legacy for future generations.”

Public feedback on the management plan’s draft amendment can be submitted until March 22. 

Meanwhile, Dr McGirr told parliament this week that community consultation for the HumeLink project is still needed and ongoing, reinforcing the need for “respectful consultation, clear justification for routes chosen and modern, adequate compensation.”

“The point is that there should be genuine consideration of alternatives and a clear justification for choosing a route based not just on lowest cost, but taking into account community and environmental concerns,” Dr McGirr said.

“Landowners also want modern compensation that includes more than the one-off payments for easements that families have encountered previously. They say this does not take into account the ongoing impact that transmission towers and lines will have not only on their land values, but also on the way in which they live, farm and protect their homes.

“People understand we need to tackle climate change and that Snowy Hydro is a reality. They know the importance of the transmission to our future. But they also want fair treatment and respect.”