By Lachlan Ellis
If they get enough votes in the upcoming state election in November, the Victorian Liberal Nationals has committed to “upgrading transmission lines to western Victoria” as part of a recent energy policy announcement – but has stopped short of pledging an underground Western Renewables Link.
In an 18 July Letter to the Editor, Deputy Leader of the Nationals Emma Kealy said the Nationals would “deliver a sensible plan and real solutions to build the energy system of the future – meaning more reliable, cheaper and clean power for all Victorians”.
The Moorabool News asked Ms Kealy whether the Western Renewables Link – which under the current proposal would consist of 190 kilometres of 85-metre-tall powerlines – would be put underground, if the Coalition wins the state election on 26 November.
The Moorabool News’ questions were forwarded on to Shadow Minister for Energy Craig Ondarchie, who said the Western Renewables Link would be re-routed, but could not say with certainty whether it would be overhead or underground.
“Unlike Labor, the Liberals and Nationals will upgrade the existing terminal station at Bulgana, and re-route the line using largely existing easements which will minimise the impact on farming practices,” Mr Ondarchie told the Moorabool News.
“An independent body, VicGrid, will determine which parts of that connecting line will be above and below ground. A Matthew Guy Liberals and Nationals Government will task the EWOV & Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner with investigating what options are available to affected landowners.”
Chair of Stop AusNet’s Towers, Emma Muir, said Mr Ondarchie’s statements were “a good start, but could go further”.
“It’s not perfect, but it certainly goes further towards listening to the community, engaging with stakeholders, and having an independent person or VicGrid, which is a government body and not necessarily independent, to assess the impacts of the project on local regional communities,” Ms Muir said.
“It possibly gets us a seat at the table, which we don’t currently have. They still need to consider the social, environmental, and economic impacts of these projects. If VicGrid propose to do that, then we’re on board, absolutely. Currently, the planning with AEMO is purely done on a RIT-T, which just looks like putting the powerlines in…it doesn’t consider economics, environment, or safety impacts.”
Ms Muir acknowledged the “big step” the Opposition was making, in taking responsibility for the Western Renewables Link’s approval.
“At least they’re taking ownership of this, the Labor Party don’t even talk about it. It’s a big step for the Opposition to say, ‘we will change this’, whereas Dan Andrews says it’s not his project,” Ms Muir said.
“And yet it is his project, because his government is running the Environment Effects Statement, his government will make the planning amendments, he has the final say on it.”
The Libs/Nats newsletter states “A future Liberal Nationals Government will intervene and reroute this transmission project from Bulgana to Sydenham via Mortlake and Lara…utilise existing easements and protect communities across the Waubra, Glendonald, Mount Prospect and Long Forest areas.”