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Community & Business

13 September, 2023

Lost in transmission: NSW Farmers and the Greens criticise government inquiry

In response to the release of the final report on the “feasibility of underground- ing the transmission infrastructure for renewable energy projects” by the NSW standing committee for state development, NSW Farmers and the Greens have heavily criticised the government and the inquiry for ignoring rural voices and needs.

By Emily Middleton

In separate responses representatives from both groups have called out the government saying that the results of the reports are extremely disappointing and show a “Sydney-centric” view.

The inquiry was formed by the NSW government to investigate whether it is feasible for transmission lines for the new renewable energy generators pop- ping up around the state, especially with- in the REZ’s (renewable energy zones) to be buried underground. This is instead of creating large towers and pylons which cross the countryside carrying the energy to switching stations, plants, substations, and onto homes and businesses.

A special focus of the report is the proposed 500kv transmission lines required for the HumeLink, “a transmis- sion line connecting Wagga Wagga, Bannaby and Maragle, involving 360 km of proposed new transmission lines and new or upgraded infrastructure at four substations”.

The report has concluded that creat- ing the new transmission lines to be above ground is the right choice. Despite being a 118-page document, the report has only one finding: “that, in considering all the evidence, the current plan for constructing HumeLink as a 500 kV overhead transmission line is the correct approach especially given the applicable regulatory environment and the lack of any action to date in progressing the under-grounding option.” This is despite the fact that the committee received 300 submissions regarding the plans for the HumeLink from a wide range of concerned citizens and experts, and MPs from other parties.

President of the NSW Farmers, Xavier Martin, has responded to the report by accusing the government of ignoring the concerns of regional communities. “These overhead powerlines will involve towers taller than the pylons on the Sydney Harbour Bridge running through paddocks and across the countryside, and it will reduce our ability to grow food and fibre at a time when productivity is paramount.

“This ‘energy transition’ has been an incredibly mismanaged process to date and now we will see people in the country foot the bill for Sydney-centric government stuff-ups,” said Mr Martin.

The NSW Farmers president also expressed that the state has an “atrocious” record of working with coal-powered communities to transition away from the fossil fuel; and that the lack of consideration for those communities and regional areas at large, gives more cause to concern that the state government consistently disregards the needs and perspectives of regional and rural communities.

The criticism of the report has been shared by Greens MP and spokesperson, Cate Faehrmann, who labelled the inquiry a “pointless tick and flick” exercise.”

Ms Faehrmann continued by arguing that conclusion if the government from the inquiry showed the committee, and

by extension the government due to the high quantity of government MPs on the committee, had already decided on path of action prior to the inquiry.

The Greens MP continued her attack on the government’s decision by saying that “it does not reflect the evidence that was presented to the committee which was overwhelmingly against overhead transmission lines. You really have to ask whether government members sat on another inquiry,” said Ms Faehrmann.

In a lengthy statement Ms Faehrmann also stated that is “was crystal clear throughout the inquiry was that Trans- grid has no social licence to build HumeLink with massive 500 kV over- head transmission lines, yet this was ignored by government members”.

“Landholders sent a very strong mes- sage to the committee that they will fight hard to stop overhead transmission lines being built, but if they were to go under- ground, they’d allow access to their prop- erty tomorrow. The government cannot justify overhead transmission lines for HumeLink because of urgency and then ignore the fact that only underground transmission lines have the social licence to start tomorrow.”

In their own statement regarding the single finding of the inquiry report and conclusion of the committee the govern- ment announced ultimately after consid- ering all of the evidence and submissions out before it the committee found that “the current plan for constructing the HumeLink as an overhead line is the correct approach”.

Within the same statement the com- mittee chair, Ms Emily Suvaal, acknowl- edged that the finding and conclusion is “not what many in the community are calling for,” and the decision was not an easy one to make.

The development of high-capacity transmission lines is a key issue across the whole state since without the trans- mission capacity, the renewable energy created from the solar and wind farms, or in some cases from hydro sources, will not reach the grid and therefore not accessible to the public.

Due to the scale, scope and cost required in transmission line develop- ment, it is perhaps worrying for commu- nities and landholders that this action by the government may set a precedent for other areas where renewable energy gen- eration is becoming an increasingly familiar part of life.

Another criticism for this decision came again from the NSW Farmers pres- ident who highlighted that the majority of renewable energy generators are in regional areas where there is the space and energy resource, while the majority of the demand for the energy is on the coast, especially in Sydney.

Mr Martin said that “people in rural and regional NSW resent the fact that they will bear the brunt of these bad deci- sions to move power generation from the coast to the bush, and that they will be paying the price to keep the lights on in Sydney”.

Since the publication of the report the government have not responded to these criticisms. The conversation on this issue will no doubt come to areas of central west and mid-western involved in renewable energy as the transmission capacity for these new generators becomes a pri- ority for those communities and state government. 

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