A new report has found putting high-voltage electricity cables underground is a viable, low-impact alternative to the overhead transmission lines currently planned for western Victoria.

Key points:

  • Independent report claims underground transmission lines are a better alternative than 190km of overhead lines planned for western Victoria
  • Ausnet, which is building the transmission network, says farming will be able to continue underneath lines with some restrictions
  • Victoria’s Planning Minister Richard Wynne says land owners’s views will be heard as project is assessed

The report — commissioned by the Moorabool Shire Council — estimated the cost of undergrounding the lines for the 190-kilometre Western Victorian Transmission Network (WVTN) at around $2.7 billion.

Its authors said that figure was five to six times greater than the cost of an overhead option, not up to 10 times more as stated in a previous energy market assessment.

Council chief executive Derek Madden said the report compared the currently planned 500kV overhead transmission lines, which would run across pylons up to 85 metres high, with three other options.

“In the beginning, we were led to believe the undergrounding of the line wasn’t a possibility, but when that changed, we were told it was going to be 10 times the cost of the current proposal,” Mr Madden said.

“So council decided to get an expert opinion to look at the different options.

A map released by Ausnet showing where the Western Victoria Transmission Network Project may go

AusNet released a map that highlights in yellow the areas where the high voltage powerlines may go.(

Supplied: AusNet

)

In its report, Queensland-based consultants Amplitude compared four transmission options, including underground and overhead lines using alternating current (AC) and high-voltage direct current (HVDC).

It found HVDC underground cables were likely to be more reliable and efficient for moving renewable energy to major centres while reducing environment and social impacts.

“Power does not need to be switched off during bushfires to aid firefighting and is highly unlikely to be disrupted due to smoke causing flashovers and potentially tripping the line.”

It said that undergrounding the power lines would have minimal impact on current users, as the easement could fit within existing road reserves.

There would also be no audible noise from the lines, no electromagnetic field impacts and less impact on flora and fauna, it added.

Contentious route

In 2019, Australia’s Energy Market Operator [AEMO] contracted a division of Ausnet Services to plan and operate the WVTN project connecting renewable energy sources at Bulgana, north of Ararat, to suburbs in Melbourne’s west.

The route of the network, which crosses some of Victoria’s most productive farmland, is yet to be announced by Ausnet in the face of significant community opposition.

Ausnet’s project includes a new 220kV transmission line between Bulgana and a new terminal station to be built north of Ballarat, plus a new 500kV transmission line.

Opponents claim the project will negatively affect local agriculture, tourism and manufacturing and point to recent wild weather in Victoria which ignited calls for underground power to replace energy infrastructure smashed in the storms.

Ausnet says farming can continue

Ausnet said farming would be able to continue underneath overhead transmission lines, including the use of centre-pivot and lateral moving irrigators, within permitted heights.

The operation of some large water spray irrigators, however, would not be allowed due to the safety risk.

Project director Stephanie McGregor said once the final route was determined later this year, Ausnet would work closely with every landowner to help them continue farming with as little impact as possible.

“We’ve also undertaken extensive further work and can confirm that farming will be able to continue under the proposed new transmission line for Western Victoria if an overhead option is chosen, including irrigated horticulture.”

Three generations of one family, three children, the parents and grandfather stand in a potato crop north of Ballarat

Katherine Myers said Ausnet’s overhead proposal could cut their irrigated potato crops by 20 per cent.(

ABC Rural: Jane McNaughton

)

Tourello seed potato farmer and vice-president of the Victorian Farmers Federation’s horticulture division Katherine Myers said the release of guidelines by Ausnet provided some certainty for farmers.

“There are some big wins out there for people using large equipment on the transmission line easement.

“In an uncertain project like this, anything we can hold onto is a positive.”

She said questions remained around landowner obligations, including the requirement for safety assessments.

Minister says land owners will be heard

Victorian Acting Water Minister Richard Wynne

Victoria’s Acting Water Minister Richard Wynne urged his Basin counterparts to consider more flexible deadlines for key Basin Plan water-saving projects.(

AAP: Julian Smith

)

Victoria’s Planning Minister, Richard Wynne, said the views of landowners would be taken into account during the environmental assessment of the project.

Speaking in Ballarat, Mr Wynne said he was well-aware of community opposition to the project’s plans.

“These are issues that need to be assessed through an expert panel process, and that is what the environment effects statement is about,” he said. 

“All of those questions I know the community have raised, particularly around buffers around some of these towers, they will all be appropriately assessed through the process.”

Sending renewable power to Melbourne underground ‘worth it’
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