On 11 August 2023, a new referral was accepted for Western Renewables Link from AusNet Transmission Group Pty Ltd, for the Construction and operation of a 500kV double circuit transmission line between Bulgana and Sydenham. The project also proposes upgrades to the existing Bulgana Terminal Station, works to enable connection of the transmission line into the Sydenham Terminal Station and minor upgrades to existing terminal stations at Elaine and Ballarat.
A decision was made by the Minister on 22 August 2023 that an Environmental Effects Statement (EES) is required for the recently amended proposal as specified above.
Ministers reason for decision:
• The area of interest for the project supports significant environmental values, including native vegetation and ecological values, residential and agricultural and other land uses, heritage values, visual and landscape values and other social values, potential aggregate impacts on which are of at least regional significance.
• Multiple alignment and design alternatives for the project within the area of interest require rigorous and transparent assessment and refinement in relation to opportunities for avoidance and/or minimisation of potentially significant effects to inform both project and statutory decision-making.
• An EES process will provide a robust, transparent and integrated framework through which: i. the project’s potential environmental effects can be rigorously assessed, including in the context of the comparative effects of feasible siting, alignment, design and operational alternatives for key components of the project; and ii. the effectiveness and acceptability of proposed measures to avoid, minimise, manage and offset environmental effects and related risks can be evaluated/ examined.
• An EES responds to community interest in project siting, alignment and design alternatives by providing appropriate opportunities for public input. • The construction of a new Sydenham Terminal Station is excluded from this decision as that is excluded from the referral, and is no longer proposed as part of the project.
AusNet Mondo is planning a 190 km overhead high voltage transmission line from Sydenham near Melbourne to Bulgana in western Victoria. The transmission line will cross Hepburn Shire from east to west through the Mt Prospect, Newlyn, Kingston and Smeaton communities, with a 24-hectare site identified at Mt. Prospect for a terminal station.
Council is opposed to the project in its current location and form and will continue to advocate for better solutions. Council wants to see transmission line infrastructure placed underground or re-routed so as to avoid impacting on high quality agricultural land, attractive heritage landscapes and the wellbeing of local communities.
AEMO and Transgrid's Project Assessment Conclusions Report
Council has expressed concern at the overhead transmission lines proposed as part of the Victoria – New South Wales Interconnector (VNI) West project.
The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) and Transgrid released a Project Assessment Conclusions Report (PACR) into the VNI West project on 27 May 2023.
Council has welcomed some aspects and expressed concern about other conclusions outlined in the report. Council is also concerned about the impacts of new options on other regional communities that were previously not affected by the VNI West project. Read Council's latest media release from 30 May 2023.
Key points of the report
- Mount Prospect is no longer the preferred option for a terminal station.
- The proposed route of the transmission lines remains largely unchanged.
- The report recommends an increase in the overhead power lines from 220kV (kilovolt) to 500kV through our Shire. This requires significantly larger towers and exclusion zones which limits agricultural uses along the transmission route.
- Undergrounding of power lines has not been considered.
“Council is incredibly supportive of reliable renewable energy, but these projects will be part of communities for decades to come. They need to be well-planned and thought out. This has not been the case for VNI West nor the Western Renewables Link to date,” said Mayor of Hepburn Shire, Cr Brian Hood.
“We have worked closely with our community to oppose this project and this review is a positive sign that we may be listened to,” he said.
“The very large terminal station and power lines up to 80m high would be an incredible blight on our landscapes and have considerable adverse impacts on the highly-valuable and productive agricultural land in our Shire.”
Cr Hood reiterated the importance of meaningful engagement with impacted communities.
“We are grateful that levels of government are listening to our community’s concerns with this project and will be very interested in the alternative options that they propose,” he said.
COUNCIL STRONGLY OPPOSED TO WESTERN VICTORIA TRANSMISSION NETWORK ANNOUNCEMENT
AusNet Services has released details of the proposed route for overhead transmission lines in the Western Renewables Link (formerlly WVTNP) , including confirmation that an extremely large terminal station will be located in Hepburn Shire, against strong community feedback.
Hepburn Shire Council is one of the worst affected Councils arising from this project, with both planned transmission lines of 220kv and 500kv and a 24ha terminal station being proposed within our Council area on some of the highest value agriculture land in Australia.
In August 2021, CEO Bradley Thomas stated in a letter addressed to AEMO, DELWP and 33 State and Federal Ministers that “council acknowledges the need for renewable power however we don’t believe this needs to be at the expense of forethought and quality process. AusNet have been awarded the project with tight delivery timeframes and on this basis their consultation with Councils and the community to date has been completely unsatisfactory. Council is currently receiving less then 24hrs notice prior to any major release of information, most recently was the single corridor announcement of which Council was formally notified after the media announcement. Our continued requests to be informed are ignored, this creates further distrust with the community and emboldens the wedge of distrust between council, the community, and the project deliverers.”
Mayor, Cr Tim Drylie, said that Council is strongly opposed to the proposed route and the size and location of the terminal station.
“We are extremely disappointed at the lack of transparency and poor community consultation with this project and we are calling for a full review by the State Government, and we understand the announcement will be very concerning for members of our community. We have been advocating strongly on behalf of the community and are extremely disappointed that the concerns of Council and the community have been ignored. The upcoming EES (Environmental Effects Statement provided by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning) process will be vital and Council will be making a strong submission.”
The council will also be supporting the community in keeping them informed on significant dates and to make submissions during the EES process by holding information sessions in early 2022.
“While Council is highly supportive of renewable energy, our clean energy future must be based on trust with community, and we are strongly opposed to the transmission lines being above ground and along the route proposed. It will have a significant impact on our valuable agricultural land, significant landscapes and the health and wellbeing of local people. The proposed lines will also impact tourism, a significant part of our local economy, by diminishing overall amenity and the visitor experience,” said Cr Drylie.
Australian Energy Marker Operator (AEMO) identified the need for the Western Renewables Link project to help unlock the increasing amount of renewable energy being produced in the state's west. AusNet Services has been awarded the contract to design and construct 190 km of new overhead high voltage transmission line from Sydenham to Bulgana. A significant part of the 500kv lines route and a new terminal station are within the Hepburn shire. The project will enable the connection of new renewable energy generated in western Victoria into the National Electricity Market and increase the Victorian transmission network capacity.
The final route of the transmission line was recently determined. View interactive map of proposed route by clicking here
AusNet Services is preparing an Environment Effects Statement (EES) for the Western Renewables Link (formerly named the Western Victoria Transmission Network Project), as mandated by the Minister for Planning in August 2020.
The Minister for Planning issued the final scoping requirements in December 2020 which broadly outline the issues that AusNet Services must address in the EES.
Once completed, an inquiry will consider the EES and submissions, conduct a public hearing and report in writing to the Minister, who will then make their assessment and provide it to decision-makers for consideration.
The project is also classified as a ‘controlled action’ under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and assessments will be managed by the State Government under this Bilateral Agreement.