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    ROLLING IN: Tractors and trucks lined St Arnaud streets on Monday, as farmers staged a rally to oppose the preferred proposed route for the VNI West transmission project.

Community rallying for answers on transmission project

By Abby Walter

Wimmera and southern Mallee farmers and communities are calling for more communication and answers as plans proceed for the Victoria to NSW Interconnector, VNI, West project.

The project is a high-capacity transmission line that will connect the Western Renewables Link in Victoria to EnergyConnect in New South Wales, to provide new transmission to deliver clean energy to consumers.

Australian Energy Market Operator, AEMO, is responsible for the planning of the Victorian transmission network, known as the AEMO Victorian Planner, AVP.

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In February, AVP identified a preferred, proposed option for the development of the project. It would connect Dinawan, NSW, via a new terminal station near Kerang directly to WRL at a new terminal station near Bulgana south-east of Stawell.

An AVP report stated the option ‘clearly outperforms all other options once other potential environment, social and engineering factors that could expedite development and delivery are considered’.

Sixth-generation Gre Gre North farmer Jason Barratt said he discovered in a newspaper article that his land, or his neighbours’ land, could be impacted by the proposed path of the transmission lines.

“We’re frustrated by the lack of communication. We have only known about this for four to five weeks and knew nothing to form an opinion and complete a submission,” he said.

“Submissions have been extended now, but what we want is the answers.”

Mr Barratt said there had been a drop-in session in St Arnaud and webinars, but they had yielded no answers yet.

“The transparency is pitiful,” he said.

“We understand that this is something that we need, but it is hugely expensive and needs to be done properly because it will be there for the rest of my life and future generations. We don’t want it to be a flop.”

AVP and Transgrid received more than 300 submissions in response to the project consultation report.


AVP group manager Nicola Falcon said consultation across the past few years showed there was a broad understanding of the need for new transmission investment.

She said the regulated process for the infrastructure was complex and drawn out.

“Since 2019, we’ve been consulting on this project to identify a preferred option that maximises consumer benefits while meeting the power system needs for all Victorians,” she said.

“The community members, farmers and council representatives we have met and spoken with understand the rapid retirement of coal-fired generation is creating an urgent need for new transmission infrastructure to connect and share new electricity generation.”

Stakeholder submissions will be assessed and contribute to the final stage of the investment test, the Project Assessment Conclusions Report, which is due in May. The report will identify a preferred option.

“When the area of interest for the proposed route is identified, detailed land and cultural assessments and individual consultation with landholders to understand any implications and associated compensation will take place,” Ms Falcon said.

In February, Victorian Energy and Resources Minister Lily D’Ambrosio issued an order under the National Electricity Act 2005, NEVA, to accelerate the project.

The order allowed AEMO to undertake an early works program for VNI West and to assess and consult on alternative project options, including the connection point between VNI West and Western Renewables Link.

Mr Barratt said the community felt it had been stripped of the ability to oppose the project after the NEVA order was issued.

“We can’t see any benefits for our farmers or community,” he said.

“It will be a visual blight, could have detrimental effects on farming and be a biosecurity risk with people coming onto farming land.

“We have been told they will be 80 to 85-metre towers with 500 kilowatts going through them, but we don’t know what we can and can’t do under or around them, and aerial will be a no-go. We’re concerned about impacts on our ability to farm and the community to prosper.”

Council concerns

Northern Grampians Shire Council has called on governments and energy agencies to respond directly to the concerns.

Mayor Kevin Erwin said the council and local farmers learned in late February that a preferred overhead power transmission line had been proposed to cut through the heart of the shire.

“Council is extremely concerned that infrastructure of this scale will have a very substantial and direct impact on prime agricultural land, but the period allowed for public input is too short,” he said.

“Council lodged its submission last week, which raises a raft of un-
answered questions from the community that need to be addressed before the project proceeds further.”

Cr Erwin said the council appreciated with the early retirement of coal generation facilities, new transmission infrastructure was necessary.

“However, what is clear is that landowners have real and legitimate concerns about their property rights, biosecurity risks, fair and equitable compensation, emergency management, and what farming practices can continue under or near transmission lines,” he said.

“Rather than decide and defend, the government needs to ensure that meaningful consultation and direct negotiation is offered.”

A rally of trucks and tractors rolled through the streets of St Arnaud on Monday to attend a question-and-answer session about the project.

Mr Barrett said the rally aimed to show strength behind the community’s cause and gain more attention for the farmers’ questions.

AEMO and Transgrid did not attend the question-and-answer session at St Arnaud Town Hall.

The Weekly Advertiser contacted Ms D’Ambrosio but did not receive a response before going to press.

The entire April 19, 2023 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!