Farmers left in the dark


CONFUSION reigns among farmers in southern Gippsland as the state government’s new kid on the bloc, VicGrid, has pushed aside their negotiations with existing companies over the various transmission projects that will be built across the region under the government’s renewable energy policy.

VicGrid, formed last year, specifically emphasises its role to co-ordinate the integration of transmission projects into the existing electricity network to avoid a ‘spaghetti effect’ of transmission lines across the landscape, and higher costs for consumers.

Gippsland’s Renewable Energy Zone (G-REZ) aims to create infrastructure, centred on a single high voltage transmission line, that will connect Gippsland’s renewable energy projects, particularly those planned offshore, into the electricity grid through the Latrobe Valley’s existing power network.

AusNet Services, which runs the electricity transmission and distribution networks in Gippsland, had been driving the development of G-REZ until the creation of VicGrid. On its website, AusNet says it supports the role of VicGrid in leading the transmission project planning and development in Victoria. While VicGrid progresses its work, AusNet says it has slowed down some of its activities on G-REZ, including deferring meetings of its community advisory group and some works related to its Environment Effects Statement.

Planned and existing projects include the high voltage transmission line; the first offshore windfarm, Star of the South, which is developing its own transmission line; CarbonNet’s carbon capture and storage development; and the existing BassLink and proposed MarinusLink, both of which are linked to Tasmania.

Marinus Link is a proposed undersea and underground electricity and telecommunications interconnector between Tasmania and the Latrobe Valley.

VicGrid’s zone of interest runs from near Wurruk to Paradise Beach, a point between Manns Beach and Port Albert, and expanding just past Alberton. The Longford gas plant also has existing gas distribution pipelines.

Dozens of farmers are affected by the proposals. The ultimate design, whether overhead, underground or a combination of both, will depend on different factors – whether the commercial model works, the community feedback, and further environmental and technical studies, AusNet says on its website.

Gippsland forms an integral part of the state government’s offshore wind targets, which are more than two gigawatts of power by 2032, 4 GW by 2035 and 9GW by 2040.

VicGrid’s chief executive, Alistair Parker, said the state government had stepped in to coordinate the transmission to minimise impacts on communities, cultural heritage and the environment to secure Victoria’s renewable energy future.

“We’re taking local communities, Traditional Owners and landholders with us every step of the way through ongoing consultation, to ensure we achieve the best social, environmental and cultural outcomes for our state,” he said.

“We carried out local and statewide community attitude surveys alongside a survey on Engage Victoria and asked people to place pins on an interactive map to share local insights – in addition to a series of community events including roundtables in Giffard and Flynn and a series of drop-in sessions and pop ups at local markets and events.”

Putting the pieces together on a new energy structure

The completion of VicGrid’s work and the federal government’s release of the list of the approved offshore wind proposals are expected to push the further development of the G-REZ.

AusNet has emphasised that it is the distribution system that typically leads to outages, or brown outs, to households at a more localised level. The company has focussed on new transmission assets to make the transmission network more reliable.

After talks with landowners, AusNet outlined its preferred route for the main transmission line in March last year.

This goes south of the Loy Yang mine, north of the Holey Plains State Park and includes an option for a terminal site at Stradbroke to join Giffard as a possible terminal site. There are 52 private landowners and eight corporate/government landowners on the current preferred site.

The G-REZ does not connect into Basslink, which links the Tasmanian and Victorian transmission networks, because the current capacity of Basslink is about 600MW and does not have capacity for additional connections, AusNet notes.

In addition, the Star of the South offshore windfarm project, which is separate from AusNet’s negotiations, is investigating an underground transmission route that is largely next to Basslink and will connect to the grid in the Latrobe Valley.

Star of the South is continuing work on its transmission proposal pending further information about VicGrid’s transmission planning, including route, timing and technical details. It has been working with about 60 landholders along the proposed route since 2020, with unique arrangements in place for each landholder. The company regularly meets with the local community, environment and community groups and government to talk about the project.

“If AusNet were to also pursue the same route for G-REZ, it would increase the overall width of the Basslink/Star of the South, G-REZ corridor to at least 180 metres and potentially wider in spaces where a greater separation distance is required between electrical circuits,” AusNet says.

“This would have a significant impact on the land and landowners, and significantly limit the permissible uses of the land. Existing land uses, including agriculture, would no longer be possible within this large easement.”

These factors mitigated against a route south of the Holey Plains State Park, which would have also created greater risks to biodiversity compared with the northern corridor.

AusNet also chose the route south of the Loy Yang mine because it reduces the ‘visual amenity impact’ on landowners and residents in the densely populated area of Traralgon East. It also avoids infrastructure such as the Loy Yang overburden site and the proposed route for the Traralgon bypass.

“By developing the project south of Loy Yang, we’re able to follow existing infrastructure corridors while allowing AGL to continue its mining and rehabilitation activities as current planned,”AusNet says. However, “the corridors north and south of Loy Yang will both be considered as part of our EES submission”. The route south of Loy Yang remains AusNet’s current preferred route; the northern corridor, the original preferred route, is now an alternative corridor.

AusNet has been investigating the merits of Stradbroke and Giffard as the preferred terminal station. Stradbroke would reduce the length of the proposed transmission line by about 15 kilometres, making the line’s overall length about 70km.

Star of the South’s route travels east from Loy Yang north of Gormandale and Hiamdale before turning south at Giffard West, crossing the South Gippsland Highway, passing Derriman until it meets the coast at Reeves Beach.

Marinus Link‘s proposed underground land route is between the electricity grid at Hazelwood, with a possible converter station at Hazelwood or near Driffield, and runs south just past Driffield and Mirboo North and crosses the shore at Waratah Bay about three kilometres west of Sandy Point.

AusNet says Star of the South and Marinus Link are well advanced in developing their projects.

“They have made significant progress in identifying feasible transmission routes and started environmental and engineering studies to further inform their projects. AusNet will continue to talk to Star of the South and Marinus Link as it further develops G-REZ,” says AusNet.

CarbonNet proposes to send liquefied carbon dioxide through a pipeline to connect at Golden Beach to a carbon capture and storage hub in Bass Strait. The pipeline has a connection point in the Latrobe Valley and spans 80km-100km buried onshore and about 20km offshore – with a 30-metre wide easement.

AusNet says both it and CarbonNet need access to properties.

“AusNet is working with the Carbon Net project to, wherever possible, minimise impact to landowners and occupiers in areas where the projects are adjacent,” the company says on its website.

The G-REZ also involves a new transmission line to connect renewable energy developments east of the Latrobe Valley into the national electricity market. There are no transmission lines that extend this far east, says AusNet.

The Victorian Farmers Federation is making no comment as VicGrid completes its work, but in the past has strongly accused the state government of autocratic behaviour towards affected farmers and has criticised the level of potential compensation to farmers for transmission lines on their land.

Infrastructure policy – Page 18

Gippsland Farmer

The Gippsland Farmer is a monthly agricultural newspaper reporting on rural news and distributed FREE and direct to an area covering from Cann River through to South Gippsland. For more than 40 years Gippsland Farmer has reported on a range of issues and industries including dairy, beef, vegetables, sheep, goats, poultry, organic farming, and viticulture.