Farmers, landowners and environmentalists are enraged over plans for wind farm powerlines to cross part of Tasmania’s north-west.
The lines would carry power from one of the largest wind farms in the southern hemisphere: UPC Renewables Australia’s Robbins Island wind farm project.
The project would pump 1,000 megawatts – enough to power 500,000 homes – from Tasmania’s wind-blasted north-west coast along the proposed lines, and eventually to the Australian mainland.
The lines would be built on a 60-metre wide easement.
Some landowners, who have letters from the company suggesting compulsory acquisition if no agreement can be reached, are threatening to “stay and fight”.
“It’ll be Tasmania’s version of The Castle, but there’ll be more of us,” Lesley Crowden, the owner of a local bed and breakfast who is helping organise community resistance to the line, said.
A draft plan released by the company has the transmission line primarily running through crown and forestry land, including parts of the Leven Canyon Reserve, and also moving through the properties of 17 private landowners.
Land loss could make it ‘incredibly hard to survive’
Rodney Saltmarsh and his family have been working the land at their Castra potato farm since 1985.
He said the family were supportive of renewable energy but were “not consulted” about the draft plans to erect up to seven transmission poles on their land.
“We had someone from the company visit us about 10 or 12 months ago saying they might need to put one pole on the property, then we get a letter and map with seven towers on our land. It was a shock to say the least,” he said.
“This could cost us  hectares of growing land, that could mean $40,000 a year,” Mr Saltmarsh said.
“That would make it incredibly hard to survive as a business and we would have to lay off pickers.”
UPC Renewables CEO Anton Rohner said the company got the “communication strategy wrong” in the face of local anger about the proposed 170-kilometre transmission line, but disputed Mr Saltmarsh’s claim.
“Company representatives met the Saltmarsh family on the 31st of October 2018. At no time did we discuss one tower, we made it clear it was a fluid route and it could be any number of towers,” he said.
“At the end of the day, we hope to avoid the Saltmarsh property altogether.”
The Saltmarsh family were sent a contract of easement and letter provided by the company and dated 26th of March this year.
The Saltmarsh family said they would not accept compensation, but would rather the company purchase the farm.
“They will have to compulsorily acquire our land. I want them to either buy the whole farm or bugger off,” Mr Saltmarsh said.
‘It was quite threatening’
Jan Winkel farms cattle in the town of Nook. His property borders the power station in Sheffield where the line will go.
Mr Winkel said when he received a letter on April 3 this year stating that the company could compulsorily acquire his land, he almost fell over.
“It was quite threatening,” he said.
Mr Winkel said after repeatedly raising his concerns with UPC, the company had decided to alter the draft route to move around his property.
“Now those towers won’t be on my land, it’s good that the company listened to my concerns but it will have a big impact on my outlook. They are huge towers,” he said.
Transmission line to avoid canyon landmark: UPC
The 10,000-hectare island that will from part of the windfarm has been privately owned by the Hammond family for four generations.
The family run a Waygu cattle farm, famous for an annual cattle run across salt-stained sand to mainland Tasmania.
Environmentalists and business owners have also expressed concerns over the proximity of the transmission line to the Leven Canyon Reserve, an important local tourist attraction.
“If the natural beauty of the canyon is affected it could ruin our business,” Ms Crowden said.
Mr Rohner said the company had “taken on board” community concerns over the canyon and promised to avoid running a line through it.
“We have listened to those concerns of the community and have committed to finding an alternative route that does not cross the Leven Canyon or near approaches,” he said.
Stage one of the Robbins Island wind farm project is not dependent on the construction of a second Bass Strait interconnector, and will cost $850 million, and produce enough power for 250,000 homes.
Stage two, which relies on the uncertain prospect of a second interconnector, would see the project double in size.
UPC Renewables said it expected the first stage of the Robbins Island wind farm project would be operational around 2023.