Wagga Wagga MP Dr Joe McGirr has called for the new State Government to launch an enquiry into the costs and benefits of ‘undergrounding’ the HumeLink electricity infrastructure project.
Community action groups and landholders have been actively lobbying against the 360 km of power lines that will cross their properties, citing environmental and aesthetic impacts.
It will involve the installation of 70-metre tall 500 kV double-circuit steel towers.
“If the current plan proceeds it will impose giant overhead transmission towers across prime farmland and pristine environments, increase the fire risk and irrevocably ruin visual amenity,” Dr McGirr said.
HumeLink will tap into the stalling Snowy 2.0 and connect Wagga Wagga, Bannaby and Maragle with the aim of improving the flow of electricity “between new generation sources and the state’s major demand centres”.
Protestors want the current poles-and-wires project to go underground instead, using superconductor cables and Dr McGirr championed the issue ahead of the election.
He highlighted recent comments made by Federal Energy and Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen at the Centre for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA).
“When it comes to transmission, social licence is the most important issue we have to face,” Mr Bowen said.
“A near total rebuild of the grid comes with challenges, particularly for the communities where projects will be built.
“It would be easy, but wrong, to dismiss those concerns as just NIMBYism (not in my backyard). In my experience, most concerned community members are not anti-renewables, anti-transmission or anti-progress. Nor, in most cases, are they opposed to the projects going ahead if their concerns are addressed.”
Dr McGirr welcomed the comments.
“This frame of thinking should absolutely be taken into consideraton when significant energy projects are rolled out across our regions,” he said.
Transgrid estimates an increased cost of almost $8 billion to go underground and warned that it will cause delays and have a direct impact on consumer bills.
“In the case of HumeLink, the difference in cost between overground and underground development is considered substantial and as such is not in the best interests of consumers,” a spokesperson said.
“Given the cost-of-living pressures being experienced by consumers, this is particularly pertinent and Transgrid is committed to doing everything it can to put downward pressure on customer bills.”
They added that it would also slow the transition to renewables.
“Undergrounding HumeLink would not be consistent with the rules that require Transgrid to propose the most efficient option for consumers based on the capital cost of the solution, the ongoing operational costs, the market benefits, the expected reliability, and the costs associated with the impact on landowners, the community, and the environment,” they said.
But Dr McGirr wants to see a proper cost analysis that would examine whether there would be improved efficiency that would lead to savings over time.
He issued a direct call to Minister for Energy and the Environment, Penny Sharpe to launch the inquiry and to genuinely confront community concerns.
“There is no social licence for this proposal and I believe that we need to conduct a public inquiry,” Dr McGirr declared.
“How else can the government possibly hope to get community support without all the facts being on the table?”