An article today, published by The Courier, states that renewable energy advocates call for powerline construction. The Grampians New Energy Taskforce has spent years advocating for Victoria to decarbonise its economy, and new transmission lines will be central to this - chair Stuart Benjamin, based in Ballarat, has spoken out previously about the need for the WVTNP, and similar projects, to get this going.
Speaking to The Courier, he is mindful of the massive impact the project will have on the people who were there first - the farmers and landholders - but said the entire state needed it.
"It's a wicked problem," he said.
"I'm a property owner and there's no way I'd want these things going across my property, full stop".
"We've really done the community, and to be honest the Victorian public, a disservice by not making a statement very early on - this thing has to go from point A to point B, and if it doesn't, in five or 10 years time we will have very serious issues in Victoria."
"Not just in our immediate communities, but our entire state, we will not have enough power to run the state, and that's not an exaggeration or overstatement."
According to Mr Benjamin, new transmission lines will be central to decarbonising our economy. While they are central, they do not have to be delivered in a way that provide regional communities with such large-scale disbenefits. The issue with any large-scale linear infrastructure is that it often can’t be delivered without impact however, with bold and visionary leadership to re-imagine our future grid, it is possible to work for the greater good of the communities across our entire region and not expect them to shoulder the burden alone.
Mr Benjamin also says, "No one has been able to explain why this asset can't go down the highway, I think we'll hear that as part of the EES process, and the community deserves to hear that."
The issue you will find is that AusNet Services, Victoria’s transmission network owners, have a clear preference for overhead transmission infrastructure. This is their bread and butter and as such, there is no incentive of motivation for AusNet to re-imagine our future grid, despite the socioeconomic and environmental impacts of this infrastructure on Victorians. No one has been able to explain why this asset can't go down the highway because AusNet Services have not assessed this feasible option.
The Environmental Effects Statement (EES) process for the WVTNP is required to proportionately investigate and document the likely environmental effects of feasible alternatives, particularly where these offer a potential for superior socioeconomic and environmental outcomes. AusNet Services have an obligation to investigate this alternative. If they do not, it will materially delay project delivery or risk the project not proceeding at all. This will be disastrous for all Victorians.
So, what are feasible alternatives?
Route selection should try to avoid, minimise, or offset impacts on important environmental, social, cultural, landscape values and strategic land use conflict by utilising existing rights-of-way as a priority.
Replacing overhead High Voltage Active Current (HVAC) with High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) on existing infrastructure and deployment of underground HVDC technology should be considered as preferred transmission options to avoid community and environmental impacts.
While HVDC solutions may increase initial project cost due to the need for converter stations, they would deliver greater lifetime benefits, including increased electricity throughput, less energy losses, improved reliability, less exposure to weather events, increased bushfire resilience, lower operating costs, less environmental impact and considerably less opposition.
What are the WVTNP feasible alternatives?
1. Leveraging existing transmission corridors
2. Converting existing transmission infrastructure to HVDC
3. Underground HVDC transmission
The problems with the WVTNP stemmed from the beginning of the project, with AEMO's RIT-T, or regulatory investment test for transmission. This test is not for for purpose as we transition to a new energy future. The flawed framework and lack of transmission planning policy has resulted in a flawed project that cannot progress in its current form.
To echo the objectives of the Grampians New Energy Taskforce,
"Maximising the opportunities and benefits will require bold and visionary leadership to re-imagine our future."
Let's hope some emerge before it is too late.