A parliamentary inquiry will into putting transmission lines underground has been welcomed, following calls from local member for Northern Tablelands Adam Marshall to do so.
Minister for Energy Penny Sharpe has requested that the Legislative Council’s Standing Committee on State Development inquire into and report on the feasibility of undergrounding transmission infrastructure for renewable energy projects, like the New England Renewable Energy Zone. Five renewable energy zones have been established to coordinate the development of renewable generation and storage projects with transmission infrastructure that will transport electricity to where it is needed.
The NSW Government says they are aware of concerns being raised regarding the environmental, agricultural, community and other effects of the HumeLink project and similar concerns regarding other transmission projects. Minister Sharpe says she has listened to these concerns and has requested an inquiry into the feasibility of undergrounding transmission infrastructure.
“The Minns Labor Government is committed to delivering the renewable energy transition that New South Wales deserves, in a way which is cost effective and environmentally responsible,” Minister Sharpe said.
“We are also committed to ensuring local communities are engaged at every stage of the transition.”
“This inquiry is an opportunity for everyone to have their say and to understand the issues that need to be weighed up when delivering this infrastructure.”
Adam Marshall raised a number of those concerns in a speech to parliament regarding the current planning for transmission infrastructure for the New England REZ, including specifically calling for transmission infrastructure to be on public land and underground where possible.
“Given that this infrastructure is intergenerational – it will be there not just for 10 or 20 years, but likely for 60 to 100 years – and there is the ability to amortise the cost of the infrastructure over multiple generations, we must seriously look at undergrounding some of the large transmission lines where possible to avoid land use conflict and also to avoid the inevitable argy-bargy that happens.”
“I thank Minister Penny Sharpe for her willingness to engage with me and our region’s local councils and community members through the Coalition of Renewable Energy Mayors group,” Mr Marshall said.
The inquiry has been broadly welcomed, including by NSW Farmers, who called it a win for common sense and community safety. Energy Transition Working Group chair Reg Kidd said too often landholders were being ignored by the big developers.
“We support a robust inquiry, because it will find that there are places where undergrounding wires is a win-win for production and community amenity that has not been addressed to date,” Mr Kidd said.
“Until now undergrounding has been ignored or dismissed as too expensive, not because of a cost/benefit analysis, but rather through the lack of will to fully investigate the impacts of huge infrastructure on rural communities.
“There has been a lot of just drawing lines on maps and justifying route selection in order to minimise cost and get onto the next project, and the real impacts of above ground infrastructure have not been assessed, and this is what this inquiry will reveal,” Mr Kidd said.
The terms of reference are as follows:
That the Legislative Council Standing Committee on State Development inquire into and report on the feasibility of undergrounding the transmission infrastructure for renewable energy projects, with particular reference to:
a. the costs and benefits of undergrounding,
b. existing case studies and current projects regarding similar undergrounding of transmission lines in both domestic and international contexts,
c. any impact on delivery timeframes of undergrounding, and
d. any environmental impacts of undergrounding.
The Committee report is due to report its findings by 31 August 2023.
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