Hepburn Shire Council has made a strong submission in response to the latest consultation report into the Victoria New South Wales Interconnector West (VNI West) project, a proposed high capacity 500 kilovolt (kV) double-circuit overhead transmission line between Victoria and New South Wales.

While Council is highly supportive of renewable energy, the submission outlined several concerns. These include the lack of transparency in the planning processes and assessments; the lack of genuine consideration for placing powerlines underground instead of overhead; the proposed transmission line route; an increase in bushfire risk; poor consultation throughout the project; minimal consideration for competing land uses and insufficient compensation for affected communities.

“Hepburn Shire is one of the worst affected local government areas arising from the VNI West and Western Renewables Link (WRL) projects,” said Mayor, Cr Brian Hood.

“Apart from the terminal station potentially being relocated from Mount Prospect, the situation is unlikely to change with any of the higher-ranking options proposed in the consultation report,” he said.

“Hepburn Shire farming communities in the currently proposed WRL corridor (which forms part of VNI West), will face the unwelcome prospect of easements of around 100 metres wide and towers between 60 and 80 metres high traversing their farms.

“The infrastructure is proposed to be constructed on some of the highest value agricultural land in Australia. This is not only unnecessary and avoidable, but completely unacceptable,” said Cr Hood.

In the submission, Council reiterated its position that underground technology needs to be seriously considered as an option for at least some sections of the transmission line corridors. The Central Highlands agricultural food-bowl generates more than $7.48 billion of gross regional product per annum.

“VNI West and WRL in their current above ground form threaten the use of this land by restricting agricultural activities around the proposed transmission infrastructure,” said Cr Hood. “We are calling for Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) and Transgrid to underground the powerlines that pass through urbanised places, important agricultural areas and areas of high landscape value, including sections within Hepburn Shire that are subject to the UNESCO Goldfields World Heritage Area bid,” said Cr Hood.

“We also question the rationale of maintaining the current alignment of VNI West and WRL through Hepburn Shire given AEMO now proposes to remove the terminal station from Mount Prospect,” he said.

For communities in the west and north-central areas of Victoria impacted by AEMO’s preferred Option 5 that were not formerly impacted by the VNI West project, Council would like to see a much higher standard of engagement with potentially impacted communities in the earlier planning stage of VNI West than was experienced by Hepburn Shire residents affected by the WRL project.

“Council is still very concerned, and of the opinion, the project is still too heavily focused on the short-term economic cost and benefits and does not appropriately take into account other important criteria or the full life cycle of the project,” said Cr Hood.

“This project does not have the necessary social license to move forward in its currently proposed form. Council will continue to lobby on behalf of the community to protect important agricultural areas and significant landscapes of our Shire and oppose these poorly thought-out projects,” he said.

Read Council’s submission at https://participate.hepburn.vic.gov.au/VNI-West.