A group of farmers is threatening to block AusNet from accessing their land to conduct surveys for its Western Transmission Network Project.

Key points:

  • AusNet announced plans for a single corridor for the Western Transmission Network Project to the media last week
  • Affected farmers and two local councils oppose above-ground transmission lines
  • Farmers are threatening to block AusNet from accessing their land to conduct surveys

The controversial project proposed 500-kilovolt high-voltage transmission lines that, if installed above ground, could be 85-metres high and would transport renewable energy from Bulgana, north of Ararat, to Melbourne.

Last week, farmers were shocked to discover AusNet had chosen a single proposed corridor for the powerlines, with the company revealing the plans to the media before landowners were notified by the company.

Power lines running through a paddock

The Hepburn Shire Council is opposed to the transmission lines being above ground. (

ABC: Claire Todd

)

The energy company sent letters to landholders within its proposed corridor for the powerlines, which said it may require access to properties to collect information for the project’s environmental assessment.

Farmer and engineer Will Elsworth, who lives in Smeaton north of Ballarat, said locals were threatening to lock the gate.

“[Landowners] are going to say to AusNet you’re not allowed on under the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 2004 and with biosecurity which is a big part of agriculture,” he said.

“Have your best crack through the courts and try and get your easements that way, it’ll take you three to five years.”

‘Intimidating tactics’

Mr Elsworth said AusNet were attempting to divide the community, by trying to intimidate landowners, and he was calling on state and federal members of parliament to oppose the project.

“AusNet haven’t consulted anyone, they’ve disregarded the community and walked over us,” he said.

a close up photo of hands holding potatoes that have just been dug out of the ground

Food giant McCains estimates 29 growers could be affected by the proposed transmission lines.(

ABC Rural: Jane McNaughton

)

Farmers were not the only people who would suffer if the proposed above-ground powerlines were installed, Mr Elsworth said, tourism businesses that relied on the picturesque views around Daylesford would also lose business. 

“One thousand hectares [of prime agricultural land] are going to be lost and jobs are at stake.”

“We want all politicians to stand up and represent the electorate, regardless of which side of the aisle they sit on.”

A report commissioned by Moorabool Council has found using high-voltage cables underground was a viable option for the Western Victoria Transmission Network, and the Hepburn Shire Council has indicated it was opposed to the transmission lines being above ground. 

‘No genuine consultation’

Mayor Lesley Hewitt said the council was extremely disappointed in the lack of genuine consultation throughout this project.

“We have been advocating strongly on behalf the community and are extremely disappointed that this appears to have had little impact.”

“While Council is supportive of renewable energy, it is strongly opposed to the transmission lines being above ground and the potential location of the transmission station, which will impact on valuable agricultural land and significant landscapes.”

The Hepburn Shire Council has committed $50,000 in its 2021-22 budget to fund a formal submission on the Environment Effects Statement (EES) and continued advocacy on behalf of the community.

A map showing Ausnet's proposed corridor for the Western Victoria Transmission Network Project.

AusNet’s proposed corridor for the Western Victoria Transmission Network Project.(

Supplied: Ausnet

)

AusNet’s executive project director Stephanie McGregor said she urged affected landholders to engage in the process and their surveys would do no damage. 

“Landholders’ insights are important to understand the specific sensitivities of individual pieces of land and set protocols for when we access the land to do studies,” Ms McGregor said.

“Access licences are put in place to protect the landowner and their interests, our preference is always to work with landholders to determine access arrangements.

“When it comes to biosecurity, we’ve sought best practice procedures from Agriculture Victoria and we adhere to the highest standards in our processes.”

AusNet will be required to assess the viability of running the powerlines underground as part of its obligations for an EES.

Farmers threaten to lock their gates to stop AusNet’s controversial power project
Source:
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