HumeLink Project generally
TransGrid's "HumeLink" project involves the construction of a new 360km 500kV transmission line to connect three substations at Wagga Wagga, Bannaby and Maragle to Snowy Hydro 2.0.
Although TransGrid operates and manages the high voltage electricity transmission network in NSWIACT, connecting generators, distributors and major end users," it is not government owned or controlled. Its major shareholders are OMERS' Spark, UTA, Canadian fund CDPQ and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority's Tawreed Investments. I TransGrid reported $759.9 million revenue and $681 million EBITDA in 2019, according to information from shareholder Spark.
TransGrid is driven by profit-drivers, seeking solutions that will deliver the HumeLink as cost-effectively and quickly as possible, rather than solutions which are best for the Australian community, the environment and landowners who have made huge personal/financial investments in affected area.
Project costs were estimated in January 2020 to be around $1.35 billion. By September 2021, that cost estimate had blown out by more than 250% to $3.317 billion making it "by far the most expensive transmission project" in Australia. It is estimated that if this estimate is accurate (which is doubtful) the project will cause transmission tariffs to increase by 40% and cost the average household an additional $60 per year (from about $1500). Little explanation has been provided by TransGrid for the cost blow outs one-third of the increase appears to be due to biodiversity offset costs which were not included in the original project assessment draft report published in January 2020.
Despite being the best and safest option, underground transmission lines were quickly disregarded due to cost and impact on shareholder profits. vii Underground lines are common practice in most of the rest of the world because of significantly reduced risk of fire, suffering less damage from weather conditions including lighting strikes and storms, reduced EMF (electromagnetic field) emissions, significantly smaller easement footprint (1-10 meters) and cheaper to protect.
The project has been widely criticised including in a September 2021 report from the Victoria Energy Policy Centre (VEPC) which says the project requires a "complete rethink". One researching stated "When you look at the technical, financial and environmental aspects of Snowy 2.0, they didn't stack up (when the project was announced in 2017] and they still don't stack up," and "If anything, the economics have gotten worse and we are now aware of the enormous environmental damage to Kosciuszko National Park and impacts on the landowners affected by HumeLink." VEPC favours underground transmission lines, particularly through the Kosciuszko National Park xii Criticism is made of the entire project design with the report calling for an independent review process to look at what's being proposed and to come up with the best solution from the technical, financial, environmental and community perspectives and to ensure that Snowy Hydro shoulders its share of the costs and not leave the burden on NSW electricity consumers. TransGrid has not addressed the criticism of the project design and is pressing on with its sub-par proposal at a huge cost to NSW electricity users and affected landowners.
TransGrid's revised project cost estimate in its September 2021 project assessment conclusions report has "a high degree of uncertainty, of -30%/+50%. That is, HumeLink's cost is expected to end up somewhere between $2.3bn and $5. Obn- a $2.7bn range!" xii. The estimate underestimates the costs and impact of opposition from affected landowners and local communities. The benefits of the project should be rigorously analysed to determine whether the HumeLink project is economically sensible in its current form, having regard to its likely true costs and the issues raised by VPEC.
HumeLink directly impacts over 600 landholders over its full 360km length, so community consultation is critical. xiv According to TransGrid "community and landowner consultation" began in early 2020 with a "narrowed study corridor" due to be published in early 2022 and construction to begin in 2024. Many of the impacted landholders have barely recovered from the unprecedented challenges suffered over the last several years dealing with the worst drought in documented history, then bushfires. Hundreds of farmers are now dealing with TransGrid's proposed transmission corridor traversing their most productive land, destroying the value of their properties and impacting their mental health and quality of life.
TransGrid has shown little regard to landowner concerns in relation to the HumeLink project and its community consultation has been widely criticised and condemned by residents resulting in multiple Court challenges and widespread community outrage and despair. xvi Following an independent review which criticised TransGrid's community consultation it was forced to employ a community liaison officer but this has done little to improve dealings with landowners as there is little evidence that TransGrid will listen to community concerns unless forced to by media attention or Court action.
Impact and dealings re Bannaby
10. The connection of the Bannaby substation to Snowy Hydro 2.0 has been considered from as early as October 2017 (initially as a 500kV single circuit line). xvii At all times from 2017 until mid-2021, the "proposed line route" ran parallel to the existing transmission lines connected to the Bannaby substation, being the most direct route affecting the least number of residences (Original corridor).
11. The proposed HumeLink transmission line corridor in the Bannaby area is currently 1 kilometre wide, with each tower approximately 65-70 metres tall (depending on the terrain) and requires a 70 metre "clearing" easementxvii whereby the surrounding land must be "sterilised" of vegetation.
12. The earliest community consultation TransGrid had with Bannaby residents was not until February 2021 (a year after TransGrid said consultation would start), by which time the proposed corridor had changed, crossing the road to the north of the Bannaby substation, and traversing directly through around 20 properties in the approximately 10 kilometres from the substation until where it hooks back to the more direct route (New corridor). KM
13. TransGrid told some Bannaby residents - in the spirit of community consultation - that due to various constraints to get the project back on track the New corridor was largely a fait accompli and there was nothing that could be done to change it. It told other residents that if they wanted to oppose the New corridor, they needed to form an action group of all of the affected residents and put an alternative feasible proposal for TransGrid to consider.
14. The Bannaby residents formed the Bannaby Residents Action Group (BRAG) and nominated Bannaby local,
Mal Brierly as spokesperson (firstname.lastname@example.org). BRAG put an alternative proposal to TransGrid that the transmission lines should follow the Original corridor (parallel to the existing lines) as this would significantly reduce the number of homes affected. Significantly, the owner of the majority of the affected land, Mr Keith Kerridge, is a member of BRAG and supports the Original corridor proposal as the route which
least impacts landowners.
15. TransGrid says that its route development "holistically" has regard to social constraints (such as townships, built up areas and cultural heritage), environmental constraints and land use constraints. ** However, unlike the Original corridor, the New corridor:
a. will destroy the habitat of endangered koalas which live within the proposed 1-kilometre corridor (and not in the Tarlo National Park). The New corridor impacts land which adjoins Mares Forest National Park and the Blue Mountains National Park and is also the habitat of endangered white-tailed wallabies, wedge tailed eagles as well as lyrebirds, emus, kangaroos, wombats and quolls. TransGrid says that it is conducting seasonal environmental surveys to consider the environmental impact. This is lip service. Only one environmental survey has been conducted at any landholding and these were scheduled on a particularly rainy day with the surveyors getting bogged and rained out at more than one site: impacts almost every cultural heritage site in the Bannaby area (in respect of which TransGrid had done no research before changing the corridor despite the information being publicly available) Cultural heritage sites affected within the New corridor include:
i. Hillas Farm Homesteads which was built in c. 1876 (the site was first established in 1826) and
is listed on the New South Wales State Heritage Register and is the subject of a permanent
conservation order. ii. "Cross Station" which was settled by the Whipp family in the mid-1800s and houses the gravesites of two Whipp grandchildren and their grandfather who all died in the 1880s. The New corridor bisects "Cross Station" destroying the value of that property.
iii. historic Adavale homestead [Brierlys to complete] c. follows the mostly densely populated route, impacting around 20 households, many of whom are permanent residents (not weekenders). Bannaby landowners have expressed extreme distress and anxiety about the proposed HumeLink project which has serious financial implications and will destroy their quality of life. Most landowners moved to the area because of its remote and quiet beauty and are now facing enormous electricity towers being built on top of their homes. TransGrid has no regard for that mental health impact. When questioned, TransGrid representatives said they had no idea how many homes were impacted by the New corridor and had not done any research, interviews or surveillance to determine that matter until after the New corridor was determined (by which time they
had said a change to the route was not possible). d. travels through some of the most productive land in the area - hundreds of thousands of dollars have been invested in this land, pasture improving and controlling weeds to make it productive for livestock and cropping. TransGrid proposes to "sterilise" with no regard for the impact on the surrounding land, including the leaching of chemicals into land grazed for human consumption. TransGrid that it does not take such "externalities" into consideration when determining the corridor.
16. TransGrid says it is committed to "listening and working respectfully, effectively and transparently with communities", however, it has been dismissive in its dealings with BRAG. It says the corridor was changed because the existing lines cross through the Tarlo National Park (for less than 1 kilometre) and TransGrid does not want the transmission lines to cross national park land unless there is no other feasible option. There seems to be little credence to this argument considering that Snowy Hydro 2.0 is situated in the Kosciuszko National Park and other sections of the transmission line cross that National Park from Lobs Hole to the proposed substation at Maragle. Various councils have joined forces with impacted landowners to push TransGrid to move the route through national parkland rather than through private land. xii Despite this, TransGrid representatives have indicated to Bannaby residents that the route is not feasible or possible. TransGrid says it prefers to avoid National Park areas because of the increased bushfire risk caused to those areas by the transmission lines. BRAG said these risks remain if the transmission lines cross private land and asked TransGrid what its bushfire plan and insurance coverage was in case of bushfire. No response was provided to those queries.
17. Studies have linked childhood cancer to high voltage power lines in England and Walesxxiii. Considering the number of households affected by HumeLink, questions were asked of TransGrid in relation to these studies. No response has been received from TransGrid.
18. TransGrid suggests that it will compensate affected landowners. However, the compensation regime under the 30-year-old NSW compulsory acquisitions legislation is grossly inadequate and does not have regard to the true impact of the transmission lines on the value of the land, the productivity of the land and the quality of life of residents.
20. Like other resident action groups along the corridor, BRAG intends to challenge TransGrid on the proposed corridor on social media and in the press and if necessary, by court action.
Ontario Municipal Employees' Retirement System - one of Canada's biggest pension funds which has also invested in the Port of Melbourne I https://www.afr.com/street-talk/canada-s-omers-readies-big-bet-in-nsw-electricity-20200315 p54a6x#-text=The%20shareholders%2C%20which%20includes%20Spark%2C%20UTA%2C%20Canadian%20fund handful 4.200f%20rival%20consortiums%20in%20a%20privatisation%20auction,
https://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/households-could-be-up-for-2b-electricity-transmission-cost-blowout 20210911-p58gsb.html https://www.vu.edu.au/about-vu/news-events/news/humelink-to-increase-nsw-power-bills-cost-the-economy "https://atimes.com.au/new-report-says-humelink-on-wrong-economic-footing/ vil https://reneweconomy.com.au/eleven-lessons-from-the-blow-out-in-costs-for-humelink-transmission-line/ vili https://tatimes.com.au/new-report-says-humelink-on-wrong-economic-footing/
https://www.elprocus.com/basics-of-underground-electric-transmission-explained/ https://243b2ed8-6648-49fe-80f0 f281c11c3917.filesusr.com/ugd/92a2aa a94fbe48d5294751bdc2300e9eOf1faa.pdf#xd co f=MWU5NjBlYWEtNjMOMIOONmY3L TgwMjctoDg2ZiNhMGRIOGQ1 mi https://www.vepc org.au
https://reneweconomy.com.au/eleven-lessons-from-the-blow-out-in-costs-for-humelink-transmission-line/ KIV https://aboutregional.com.au/for-our-children-and-grandchildren-hundreds-fight-transguids-transmission-line!
V https://www.transgrid.com.au/projects-innovation/humelink#Timeline XVI See for example https://www.theland.com.au/story/6888988/humelink-consultation-questioned/: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-09-24/updated-proposed-transgrid-humelink-route-for-gilmore-vallev/100487236 https://www.theland.com.au/story/7507632/wires-a-daily-nightmare-fam-faces-third-transmission-corridor/ xvil https://www.aer.gov.au/system/files/TransGrid%20 %20OFS%201901DB%20Reinforcement%20of%20Southern%20Network Snowy%202%20Contingent%20 %201%20December%202017.pdf mwili https://tatimes.com.au/landholders-left-in-limbo-by-humelink-proposal/ I https://www.transand.com.au/projects-innovation/humelink#Map I https://www.transgrid.com.au/media/tusb2bsg/210922-landowner-consultation-humelink.pdf vi https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hillas Fam Homestead crii https://aboutregional.com.au/snowy-valleys-council-backs-landowners-push-to-put-humelink-through-national-park/ skii https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15933351/