TransGrid Humelink Project

Published on: November 2021

Record: HANSARD-1323879322-121005

TransGrid Humelink Project

Dr JOE McGIRR (Wagga Wagga) (12:56:53):

I move:

That this House:

(1)Notes with concern the proposed electricity transmission infrastructure of the Transgrid HumeLink Project and the severe impact on landowners, neighbouring properties and communities.

(2)Calls on the Government to ensure the best route decided takes account of prime agricultural land and the environment, and placing transmission infrastructure on public land wherever possible.

(3)Calls on the Government to ensure that compensation is fair and reasonable for all those affected, and that the option of annual payments to affected landowners and communities is available.

It is sink or swim time for the people of rural and regional New South Wales as the waves of renewable energy infrastructure engulf the land they farm and the communities they live in. The State is rightly embarking on a massive change to the electricity grid. There will be benefits for the environment and benefits especially for the city. It just should not happen at the cost of rural and regional people and communities.

This motion relates to the Transgrid HumeLink project. That project involves the building of massive transmission infrastructure in southern New South Wales, with towers as high as 70 to 80 metres—twice as high as any towers currently in place. That is the sort of transmission infrastructure the people are worried about. But it is not just in the southern part of the State, this issue is statewide. The rollout of transmission infrastructure and renewable energy projects across the State will affect landowners throughout New South Wales. This motion is seeking that the route selected for those transmission lines should be the best possible and the fairest possible to the communities they traverse and that compensation should be modern, the best available and the fairest.

For more than a year I have been calling on Transgrid and the Government to treat landowners and communities with respect.

As I have acknowledged in this House, there has been a recognition of how poorly landowners and communities have been treated in the consultation process. To its credit, Transgrid undertook an independent review through its landowner and community advocate. That report, released in July this year, was highly critical and made 20 recommendations, which Transgrid has accepted. It has told me it is resetting the consultation process, and I acknowledge that that is what it is trying to do. In terms of the feedback I get from communities, the jury is very much out on whether that is succeeding. However, I acknowledge that effort is being made and I maintain regular contact with Transgrid on that issue.

The reason I have brought this motion to the House is that even if we get the consultation process right, it will mean nothing unless we listen to what those people who are affected are saying. The key issue is they want the routes to be considered carefully, their concerns to be acknowledged and compensation that is appropriate. As I have said before, we need to listen. We need to get this right now because this transmission infrastructure is going to go across the State. We have seen the electricity road map. We know there are renewable energy zones. If members do not think it is going to happen to their electorate, they should mark my words: They will be getting powerlines near them in rural and regional New South Wales. That is what concerns me. As I say, the cities will get sustainable, renewable, cheaper energy but it does not mean that we have to leave behind those who live where we put the infrastructure. Their land is devalued, their livelihoods are affected and they feel the crushing weight of anxiety as the threat of those towers looms. By way of this motion, I want for this Parliament to recognise the distress that is being caused.

As I said, I want to ensure that the best route is chosen; that it is on public land, where possible; and that prime agricultural land and the environment are considered. If that means undergrounding then that should be considered properly. It is always said that undergrounding is too expensive—it is dismissed and brushed off. Actually, undergrounding is recognised overseas as being appropriate. Many European governments are adopting it. When account is taken of the full assessment, including the negative impact of the towers and the positive benefits of undergrounding, I am not sure it is so clearly one or the other. What I do know is that the people whose lands will be crossed by these wires deserve to have an independent, detailed assessment done to show the difference between undergrounding and overgrounding.

The routes we select should not just be the cheapest; we should have the best. We should respect agricultural land and share the benefits of this technology with the communities. I acknowledge that Transgrid is looking at an option in relation to public land—the so-called 2F option. It has indicated to me that there is a possibility this option may be more expensive, which will create an issue for its negotiations with the national regulator. I say this to the Government: If that is the case, either stump up the cost difference or make it a requirement. My understanding is that if the jurisdiction makes it a requirement then the national regulator will have to cop that. That is something that can be done, and I think the Government needs to consider it as an option.

I also raise the issue of compensation and say that it needs to be modern and fair. One of the issues that keeps being raised with me is the potential for annual payments. I actually think under the just terms Act there is a provision for annual payments in the negotiated settlements, and I understand Transgrid is looking at that. I encourage it to do so, because that will address a lot of the landowners' concerns. They have seen other renewable energy infrastructure, such as wind turbines, get annual payments and they would like to see the same benefit. I add that I think benefits need to apply not just to the people whose land these lines go over but also to their neighbours and their community. They should all share in the benefits of this technology. It is convenient for the Government to say that it is up to the regulator or to a private company, but the Government can take action—and I support it to do so—to ensure that landowners are treated fairly, that the best and fairest route is chosen, and that the compensation is also the best and fairest for those landowners and their communities. I thank the House.

Ms FELICITY WILSON (North Shore) (13:04:02):

I acknowledge the motion that the member for Wagga Wagga has brought to the House and thank him for doing so. As he has identified in his contribution, this is a longstanding matter he has advocated on and we, as a Government, respect and appreciate the voice he is sharing in this place on behalf of his constituents. I know that my colleague the Minister for Energy and Environment has been working with the member for Wagga Wagga and takes on that feedback. The Government acknowledges the importance not only of upgrading the transmission infrastructure of New South Wales but also of doing so in a fair, open and honest way. The power stations that have provided our abundant and reliable power are, as members know, beginning to reach the end of their technical lives. It is a false economy to try to just patch them up over time to keep them going. The Government's focus is on supporting replacement generation that will continue to deliver reliable, affordable and low-cost capacity.

GenCost 2020-21

In releasing the NSW Electricity Infrastructure Roadmap, the Government has taken decisive action to take control of our future energy system, acting in the interests of the people of New South Wales. We are doing this by providing the private sector with the framework it needs to deliver up to $32 billion of electricity infrastructure by 2030, and driving savings of around $130 a year for the average household electricity bill between 2023 and 2040. The focus on delivering renewable energy zones with generation firmed by batteries, pumped hydro and gas generation has been further confirmed by the latest CSIRO study released earlier this year. That report confirms that solar photovoltaics and wind continue to be the cheapest sources of new electricity generation capacity in Australia, even when the integration costs of renewables, such as storage and transmission, are included. Our challenge is that the best locations for renewable energy zones are not in the same places as our existing generators. New transmission lines are needed to support the electricity getting to the cities, towns and regions where there is household, business and industry demand.

2021 Inputs, Assumptions Scenarios Report

The scale of this necessary transmission transformation is borne out by the Integrated System Plan [ISP] published by the Australian Energy Market Operator [AEMO]. AEMO's recent for the next ISP suggests that the level of generation investment interest continues to far exceed available transmission capacity. The Energy Security Board, in its Post 2025 reforms, has also stated that more transmission capacity is needed in the energy system to meet increasing renewable energy generation investment. The ISP confirms that to support the renewable energy zones and projects such as Snowy 2.0, new transmission is needed in southern New South Wales around the Wagga Wagga region.

In August 2020 the Treasurer, and Minister for Energy and Environment put on record in the Parliament his expectation that Transgrid, the New South Wales transmission operator, would undertake genuine, transparent and inclusive consultation with local communities and affected landowners when it comes to planning new transmission infrastructure. The Minister has made it clear to Transgrid that there needs to be marked improvement in its information provision and consultation approach. The feedback received then, and since, is that there needs to be improved explanation and communication of why the projects are needed, why particular routes have been selected and why other route options are not feasible, as well as improved conversations on the approach to compensation. The Government welcomes Transgrid's report on its stakeholder consultation carried out by the former Commissioner for NSW Fair Trading, Rod Stowe, which was referred to by the member for Wagga Wagga. This report made 20 recommendations, all of which Transgrid has committed to implementing.

One consistent theme heard by the Government was that landowners want to see route options that maximise the use of public rather than private land, and I think this is a reasonable request. However, we cannot forget that the impacts from these projects are not just local. These major projects have a cost, and that cost is borne by electricity consumers. We need to get the balance right. This balance needs to be achieved between minimising the local impacts of projects on private landholders, as raised by the member for Wagga Wagga, and minimising additional project costs that will reduce the overall benefits—and, therefore, the bill savings for households and consumers. This is not an easy balance to achieve, as it often involves competing priorities. In that vein, I will move an amendment to the motion of the member for Wagga Wagga, while acknowledging the contribution he is making. I move:

That the motion be amended by omitting all words after "That the House" and inserting instead:

(1)Notes the impact of proposed electricity transmission infrastructure of the Transgrid HumeLink Project on landowners, neighbouring properties and communities.

(2)Supports the Government's efforts to balance the interests of prime agricultural land and the environment in determining the best route for the project, and to place transmission infrastructure on public land wherever possible.

(3)Notes that the HumeLink project is progressing through the national framework that is regulated by the Australian Energy Regulator [AER].

(4)Notes that the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment is engaging with the AER on ways to ensure compensation is reasonable and balances the costs of infrastructure with social licence. On the fourth point, the other concerns that the Government has heard include that compensation to which landholders are currently entitled does not sufficiently cover their loss and that the compensation framework is deemed to be unfair because greater compensation is available for wind farms and other similar infrastructure. The Government is currently working on a range of compensation options for transmission projects, for Humelink, as the member for Wagga Wagga has raised, and beyond. This is part of broader and necessary work to ensure these new projects obtain social licence from the communities that will be hosting them. The Government has also heard from Transgrid that its scope to make changes is limited or non‑existent because of the relevant economic regulatory regime administered by the Australian Energy Regulator.

The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment has been directed by the Minister to work with relevant professional advisers and the Australian Energy Regulator to inform us on the current regulatory arrangement regarding community consultation and compensation frameworks, benchmarks for comparable infrastructure development and advice on the "gold standard" for community consultation and appropriate compensation arrangements for transmission development. This work is underway, and the Government looks forward to not only receiving the advice but also sharing it with Dr McGirr and others.

I reiterate the Government's view: Transgrid is expected by this Government to undertake genuine, transparent and inclusive consultation with local communities and affected landowners when it comes to planning new transmission infrastructure. The concerns of these groups, as raised by the member for Wagga Wagga, are real, they are legitimate and they need to be addressed, responded to and acted on wherever possible. However, we also need to ensure these new projects are efficient and built at the lowest cost to avoid the gold-plating and bill impacts that happened under previous governments. New transmission is essential for the transformation of the energy sector, and because it is essential the social licence for these projects needs to be earned and maintained, not taken for granted.

Mr JIHAD DIB (Lakemba) (13:11:10):

I make a contribution to debate on the motion moved by the member for Wagga Wagga. Only a couple of weeks ago I was in Tumut with him and Snowy River Valleys Council Mayor James Hayes. My relationship with the member for Wagga Wagga goes a fair way back, including a link with the Sydney Muslim Cyclists. That is a group in my electorate that makes an annual trip through Tumut to raise funds for the hospital. I believe their last trip raised $40,000. We also had a link during the bushfires, when our community was able to join with Dr McGirr's community and support them. I remember getting stuck in a service station at Adelong at two o'clock in the morning, but that is another story. I publicly thank Dr McGirr and his wife, Kerin, for the lovely flowers that they gave me from their garden to give to my wife. We really appreciated them. They did not survive the trip as well as I hoped, but that was okay.

While I was in Tumut Dr McGirr and Mayor James briefed me about some of the issues and concerns surrounding the Humelink project. I know they have been addressed with Dr McGirr and with the Parliamentary Secretary and member for North Shore. There is no argument that the Snowy Hydro is a good project. It will improve energy, it is something that we require and it builds into the road map. The argument primarily centres around some of the things that the Parliamentary Secretary has just referred to, and that is about the way people are being treated. People have not been treated right. I am glad that there was an inquiry, that it made recommendations and they have been acted on.

I am a city boy, but I spend an enormous amount of time in the regions. One thing I have learned is that one cannot do city things in the regions. Courtesy, decency, respect and listening to people and communicating well with them are incredibly important. That was the sense I got when I spoke to Dr McGirr and the mayor as they gave me a briefing. I thought that was a pretty easy fix, and I am glad that is being worked on. It comes down to listening to what the valid concerns are. As I said, the argument is about transmission and the need for energy. The idea that was raised about just compensation, I think, is a fair one.

This is a situation in which we are asking to use people's land and they are being paid a certain amount of money. But down the road another landowner might be using, say, renewable energy and is receiving a substantial annual income from that. The landowner with lines that run straight through their land at this point is getting a one-off payment. I do not think that is fair, and I do not think many people would think that is fair. I do not want the landowners painted as being greedy in some way, or wanting to stop progress; they do not. They just want to be treated fairly, with respect and the same as other people. Otherwise, if I were a landowner, I would be thinking, "Why would I allow this particular line when I can make money from my land by having renewable energy?"

Time is running short. I note the amendment and it is up to Dr McGirr what he does with that. I see this matter as the responsibility of the Federal Government with regard to the Australian Energy Regulator, but the State Government also plays a big role regarding Transgrid and the way that we operate things. To simply say that this is somebody else's problem and somebody else will deal with it is absconding from that. I know the Minister would not be doing that on purpose but it seems he is saying, "We are not responsible for this." That may be true, it may be that the Government is not responsible for this, but that does not mean that we walk away from our responsibility to treat people properly and with respect. I am glad to support the motion of the member for Wagga Wagga. Like everybody, I hope for a proper and fair resolution to this issue.

Debate adjourned.


I will now leave the chair. The House will resume at 2.15 p.m.

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