Lens zooms in on energy study area


VICGRID has released its study area for the new transmission infrastructure through South Gippsland that will transport energy from offshore wind into the Latrobe Valley electricity grid.

The study area starts about six kilometres from the coast near Giffard and travels north-west past Stradbroke West, to Willung, across to Flynns Creek and on to the Loy Yang power station.

It does not include the preferred transmission route identified by the private operator AusNet services, which runs the electricity transmission and distribution networks. AusNet has undertaken three years’ negotiations, studies and environmental and cultural heritage assessments.

VicGrid’s chief executive, Alistair Parker, said the study area and the associated connection hub area had been informed by feedback from local landowners, communities and regional stakeholders as well as by technical work carried out last year.

The public release of the study area follows a mail-out to affected landholders a week before. VicGrid said it had made every effort to reach all owners and residents of property within the area before a public announcement.

This transmission infrastructure will support the state’s first offshore wind target of 2 GW or 200 megawatts by 2032.

The proposed transmission technology is a double circuit 330 kV or 500 kV overhead transmission line, with further detailed analysis required to determine which is the best operating voltage.

Multiple combinations of technologies were investigated, including putting the transmission line fully underground. But, after careful analysis, it was ruled out as an option due to cost, engineering complexity, procurement and timing.

VicGrid’s analysis found an overhead line is estimated to cost between $700 million and $1.5 billion, while undergrounding is estimated to cost between $2 billion and $4.5 billion. Those additional costs would be paid for by all Victorian homes and businesses through higher power bills.

The higher cost of going underground was largely due to the complex construction process. Mr Parker said while VicGrid had received feedback that some local communities would prefer underground lines, it had also received feedback that the impact on bills was an important consideration for many.

Mr Parker told the Gippsland Farmer that AusNet would probably be disappointed by Vic Grid’s plan.

Gippsland’s potential energy future

“THAT was something they were doing at commerical risk, trying to get enough proponents together as customers to make it work commericially,” Mr Parker said.

Mr Parker said the government’s concern two years ago was that if every proponent developed its own transmission, they would get the community offside because people would be talking to all these proposals that would not necessarily go ahead.

This would create concern in the wider community, he said, with the government’s Renewable Energy Zone ceasing to be a niche solution.

The first offshore wind farm, Star of the South, has been developing its own transmission line separate from the main transmission link.

Mr Parker said the upshot was the government’s decision that VicGrid would be in charge: it would develop the transmission for offshore wind. If the offshore wind industry wanted to be in the running for government support, it would have to connect through VicGrid.

“That has been clear for a while. AusNet paused their activties a year ago,” he said.

Mr Parker estimated about 300 landholders were in the study area, but not all of them would end up hosting a transmission line.

“The work we will do over the next year or two is to identify the corridor, then come down to a detailed route that will be suitable for easements. So probably in six to 12 months time, many of those 300 landholders will find they are not hosting transmission,” he said.

He acknowledged other onshore solar and wind projects would also want to tap into the VicGrid transmission line.

“One of the things that has been awkward for us, we really want to share this information with the community before we started going into detail with proponents who knew what we were doing when the community didn’t,” he said.

“We can’t start to have those conversations; already a couple have indicated they are keen to talk to us.

“Obviously, these are the big questions of capacity. We will need to work through that.”

Mr Parker said it was complicated; the actual line proposed for technical reasons can only take 2 to 2.2 GW. There was a perception that to reach 9 to 10 GW, five lines were needed.

“We will need another line from the coast – it’s not done in detail yet, we will do that work next year as well,” he said.

“We think that we need another line from the coast to the LV, we will need to join the two lines. Doing that, you get enough redundancy that you can carry 8 to 9 GW. With transmission lines, it’s not like a water pipe where the only question is how much water to pump – with electricity, you have always got to cover for fault on one of the lines, you are always trying to work out to ensure, if have a fault, don’t black out everybody. The first line is always bigger than you strictly need, but when you get another, you can share better.”

To help gauge the location of onshore renewable projects, Mr Parker said the government was working on the Victorian Transmission Plan.

“It’s starting from land use, instead of starting from the electricty system. It’s starting from perspective of where the best places are for this infrastructure – not just in terms of solar or wind resource, but in terms of what are the existing land uses,” he said.

“Does this live well with it, or would it be affecting highly productive ag land? We are doing that work now. That might tell you when we’ve finished it, this will be a terrible place for solar, or brillant place for wind – we haven’t finished that.

“When we have that perspective, it will say to people, ‘clearly, area A is good for a particular project; the area B is a terrible place’. We will manage that capacity much more closely across the whole of Victoria.”

The VicGrid announcement came a week after the state government announced its new policy to fast-track planning approvals for renewable energy projects.

The policy has been strongly attacked by the Victorian Farmers Federation and a leading state planning expert.

The federal government is currently assessing feasibility licence applications from offshore wind proponents in Gippsland and has recently declared a second offshore wind area off the Victorian coast in the Southern Ocean region.

VicGrid will now take time to assess the implications of the Southern Ocean annoucenement and the area that has been identified, which is 80 per cent smaller than originally planned due to fears about disturbing whale habitat.

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.