No gold-plating for HumeLink, all sides agree

The 500kV line would pass through Yaven Creek and Gilmore.

Local farmers are educating themselves about the law and energy infrastructure after TransGrid notified them in May of plans for a 500kV power line to go through Gilmore, Adjunbilly, Yaven Creek and surrounding areas. The project is titled ‘HumeLink’ and will ultimately connect Snowy 2.0 with the metropolitan grid.

Both sides agree there should be no ‘gold-plating’ of infrastructure, but they haven’t yet found a route for the new powerline which will please everyone involved.

The term ‘gold-plating’ was popularised in the early 2010’s as landholders began fighting new energy construction, arguing that the infrastructure wasn’t necessary. A federal court agreed in May 2017, finding that energy monopolies were overinvesting in their systems and then charging consumers to cover the cost.

Then federal environment and energy minister Josh Frydenberg (now Treasurer) said the existing rules allowed companies to “game” the system and drive up energy prices.

Yaven Creek farmers have been learning from an independent report into TransGrid’s plans, conducted in the Manning Valley, which defeated a proposed powerline in that area, because it was found to be unnecessary.

Matt Pearce, chair of the Yaven Creek/Lower Bago/Willigobung committee said they recognise HumeLink needs to be built, but he and the committee have an alternative they want considered.

“They already have the ability to upgrade the existing network and the existing power lines,” said Mr Pearce, referring to a 330kV line which already runs through parts of Yaven Creek and Gilmore.

“They’d be able to achieve what they want to achieve without building any new lines. If they’re looking to cost save, there’s opportunities without actually building any new infrastructure.”

Mr Pearce’s suggestion comes after Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor  promised last week there would be no ‘gold-plating’ in HumeLink. 

“Any transmission project that is developed must provide value to consumers,” Mr Taylor said.

“It is critical to avoid over investment and ‘gold plating’ of the network, because it is consumers who have to pay for this as part of their electricity bills.

“As we recover from Covid-19 and Australians are already worried about energy consumption while they spend more time at home, the last thing we want to do is burden them with more unnecessary costs.”

Mr Taylor’s announcement was focused more directly on the consumers, but Mr Pearce said the same goal still applies for both the government and Snowy Valleys landholders: interrupt as few landowners as possible and reduce the time and money needed to create easements and build infrastructure.

“If it’s along existing lines and existing easements, there’s less compensation to pay to landowners and it’s far, far easier to use existing easements or upgrade them,” said Mr Pearce.

Mr Pearce said the community was still in discussions about that proposal, but were hopeful TransGrid would consider the option.

“We’re building a case to suggest that this is what they should be doing,” he said.

Mr Pearce and the committee were still waiting for a response from Mr Taylor after repeated requests for a meeting.

TransGrid responded that “the existing 330kV line can only transfer a certain amount of electricity”, so in order to “meet community demand for electricity, an additional 500kV line needs to be built.”

They also said HumeLink will parallel the existing 300kV line where possible, however in order to safeguard electricity supply, transmission lines are often separated to prevent disruption by outages caused by bushfires and other factors.