High voltage power line projects spark mixed emotions in regional Victoria and NSW

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The tantalizing scent of freshly baked baguettes mingles with the irresistible scent of buttercream and powdered sugar.

Elegantly dressed patrons alternate delicate bites of mille-feuille with sips of coffee.

Péché Gourmand pastries are a favorite of locals and tourists in Creswick.(ABC Ballarat: Lexie Jeuniewic )

Everything about Le Péché Gourmand Boulangerie-Pâtisserie in Creswick whispers provincial France, but a bold red sign in the corner of the storefront screams western Victoria:

“Stop the AusNet towers. Join the fight.”

Efforts by the city and surrounding district to halt plans to build above-ground power lines for AusNet’s Western Renewables Link have been going on for years.

Handmade protest signs are posted on farm gates, fences and in area businesses; even the Big Spud on Ballarat-Daylesford Road has its own “Piss Off AusNet” sign.

Country road in western Victoria with the ute and roadside potato store on the left
Signs opposing AusNet’s Western Renewables Link are commonplace in western Victoria. (ABC Ballarat: Lexie Jeuniewic)

In March, local farmers opposed to the project rallied at Parliament House in Melbourne and, more recently, drove tractors through Ballarat’s CBD.

Péché Gourmand co-owner Marie Williams says she fears it is these farmers who could pack up and leave the area if AusNet’s plans come to fruition and, as a result, crush its clientele.

“To be honest, we’re really worried about this,” Ms Williams said.

“If the farmers are no longer there, we lose half of our customers.”

woman in a brown dress with a slight smile stands in a bakery
Creswick company owner Marie Williams is concerned about the impact the transmission lines will have on the area.(ABC Ballarat: Lexie Jeuniewic)

Ms Williams and her husband moved from Sydney to Creswick 10 years ago to escape city life. She said the Western Renewables Link would puncture the city’s bucolic surroundings with unsightly towers, turning off tourists.

“Watching towers isn’t the most enjoyable thing. It’s hard to grasp how far it will go and how much it will affect the region,” she said.

More transmission lines on the horizon

Last week, further plans for another transmission line through western Victoria were released by AEMO (Australian Energy Market Operator) and Transgrid.

map of planned transmission lines through Victoria and part of New South Wales
VNI West is designed to connect to other projects, including the Western Renewables Link. (Source: AEMO)

Touted as a unique opportunity by energy operators, the Victoria to New South Wales Interconnector West (VNI West) power link aims to allow the two states to share electricity.

AEMO spokesman Jonathan Geddes said the development would “increase grid resilience, energy reliability and put downward pressure on electricity prices for homes and businesses”.

Divided councils

Under the plan, 500-kilovolt (kV) double-circuit overhead transmission lines would meander from the Snowy Hydro network in New South Wales to a proposed terminal station at Newlyn in the Hepburn Shire.

Ruth McRae, mayor of Murrumbidgee Shire Council in the Riverina, said the council “fully supports strategies to generate and deliver affordable and secure energy to our nation”.

“Energy costs are a big part of a household’s budget, so most people would support this concept,” Councilor McRae said.

She stressed, however, that the “most significant impacts of the project are borne by local landowners and the community”.

“This project concerns us all and we urge the community to get involved in the consultation process and to make their views known,” she said.

Red sign stopping Ausnet Towers in Creswick Business Window
The Péché Gourmand window sign sends a strong message.(ABC Ballarat: Lexie Jeuniewic )

Hepburn Shire Council – which includes the towns of Clunes, Creswick, Daylesford, Hepburn Springs and Trentham – has expressed strong opposition to the proposal, echoing its position on the Western Renewables Link.

Deputy Mayor Jen Bray told ABC Ballarat Breakfast that the council was “not opposed to renewable energy”, but how it was delivered was important.

She said the council was looking for an underground solution for the power lines, as well as a different location for the proposed transmission station for Mount Prospect in the village of Newlyn.

Sign with a red cross on transmission lines and towers on the farm fence
Hepburn Shire Council is concerned about the Western Renewables Link and VNI West.(ABC Ballarat: Lexie Jeuniewic)

“It’s going to make Hepburn Shire a central hub for a series of lines that could radiate out, much like the spokes of a cartwheel,” she said.

“That’s not really what you want in an area where you have premium farmland.

“Not what you want in an area where your main tourist economy relies on beautiful, pristine landscapes.”

But Mr Geddes said underground high-voltage lines running the length of the project were ‘not economically justifiable’.

“We recognize the importance of considering all reasonably practicable route refinement options, which may, in exceptional circumstances, include partial burrowing over short distances,” he said.

Projects “can be done better”

If the plans go ahead as planned, the property of Newlyn potato farmer Kain Richardson will be surrounded by transmission lines and will have the VNI West transmission station at its ‘back door’.

“There was no consideration for the people,” he said.

cloudy horizon of farm with sheep on mostly green grass
Farmer Kain Richardson’s estate in the town of Newlyn. (ABC Ballarat: Lexie Jeuniewic )

Mr Richardson, a fifth-generation farmer, said none of the proposals used ‘modern technology’.

“We have gone from the time [transmission towers] were built in the 1960s. Do you want to go back to leaded cars?” he asked.

“Why is transmission excluded from technological advances, and must landowners accept it? It’s not.”

Mr. Richardson said that he had not yet received any communication from AEMO or Transgrid regarding the VNI West project since the publication of the draft assessment report for the project.

“It leaves a lot to be desired,” he said.

AEMO Victorian Planning and Transgrid will hold online information sessions on August 10 and 25. Registration is mandatory.

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