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A clash between farmers and electricity transmission companies is looming as the rapid growth in renewable energy sparks the need for new high voltage power lines across regional areas.
The transmission network needs major upgrades across the eastern states so that new wind and solar farms can feed electricity into the grid and distribute power generated by the Snowy 2.0 hydropower project.
In anticipation of disputes over the location of new lines, the federal government is appointing an independent commissioner to help property owners facing such infrastructure being built on their land.
The National Wind Farm Commissioner, Andrew Dyer, will have his powers expanded to cover new transmission projects and will be rebadged as the Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner.
His expanded remit will cover landholders facing problems with the design, planning, construction or operation of high voltage power lines on, or near, their properties.
The federal government hopes the new role will help pave the way for the rapid development of the transmission network, which Energy Minister Angus Taylor described as “crucial to the security and affordability of our grid”.
“As these critically important transmission projects take shape, we want to ensure that any concerns community members have are heard and resolved in the appropriate way, and the commissioner’s expanded role will facilitate this,” he said.
Lines critical, routes criticised
There are a raft of new transmission lines being developed to support the Snowy 2.0 hydropower project, including the $2 billion HumeLink.
The grid operator in New South Wales, TransGrid, was forced to draw up new options for the HumeLink route after the Snowy Valleys Council, the Rural Fire Service and community members objected to the original proposal.
AusNet, which operates the Victorian electricity grid, has drawn the ire of farmers over its planned route for the Western Victoria Transmission Network Project.
These transmission lines, plus several others, have been identified as critical for ensuring renewable energy can be integrated into the electricity grid and provide better backup power across state borders.
“Australia is about to embark on the most significant deployment of large-scale transmission projects in the country’s history,” Mr Dyer said.
“Effective community engagement and resolution of community concerns will be essential for these major projects to proceed in a timely manner and deliver much needed grid capacity where it is required,” he said.
“Engaging the community throughout this major grid transformation and deployment will be vital to success.”
Role grows after unlikely start
Mr Dyer’s new title marks another increase in the scope of the role after its controversial inception in 2015.
The commission was established and tasked with examining the health impacts of wind turbines in a Coalition concession to cross-bench senators in order to win their support for changes to the Renewable Energy Target.
In 2018, the commissioner’s role was expanded to include large scale solar and storage installation.
Now the commissioner will try to resolve disputes regarding new major transmission projects and help the energy sector adopt best practice approaches for community consultation.
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