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In tranquil Southern Tablelands, an unusual group of activists emerge

Updated: Feb 15, 2022

Nestled in the picturesque countryside of Bannaby, in the Upper Lachlan Shire of the NSW Southern Tablelands, are a dozen or so landholders with an axe to grind.

Among them are investment bankers, media executives and small business owners. They are not the sort of people you would normally expect to find protesting against an energy project.

But they are incensed over electricity operator Transgrid’s plans to build a new 500kV transmission line through their properties – especially when there is an existing corridor nearby.

Propety owners Christine and Peter Rose, with Mal Brierley, are fighting Transgrid’s proposed route for the new power lines.

One of the state’s largest energy infrastructure projects, the 350-kilometre loop aims to “future proof” the network and will connect the Snowy Hydro 2.0 scheme with a new substation at Wagga Wagga and upgraded substations at Maragle and Bannaby, north-east of Goulburn, at a cost of $3.3 billion.

But it is the final dozen or so kilometres through the farmland and homesteads of Bannaby that have so irked local landowners, prompting them to form the Bannaby Residents Action Group (BRAG) to demand Transgrid reconsider the route.

“It dog-legs almost physically over the top of an actual house,” says former Showtime Australia boss Peter Rose, who with his wife Christine owns the historic Bannaby and Cross stations, which cover about 1000 acres.

“I asked them if they were aware of Google Maps because all these houses appear on Google Maps. They said, ‘Oh no, no, we’ve got to go this way’. It was like an episode of Monty Python.”

At present, Transgrid has identified a 1 kilometre-wide corridor of investigation that runs north of Tarlo River National Park, curves eastward and then turns south into the Bannaby substation. The affected landowners argue the HumeLink should simply follow existing power lines that cut through the national park.

Transgrid points out that the route has not been finalised, and that wherever it ultimately goes the corridor will be refined to 200 metres width and then narrow to about 70 metres. The company’s executive manager of delivery, Craig Stallan, said NSW Department of Planning rules required it to identify alternative routes that avoided national parks and minimised environmental impacts (the existing lines were built before a national park was declared).

Furthermore, as the new 500kV line cannot be built too close to the current 330kV line, it would necessitate a wider corridor through the park, Mr Stallan said.

“We’ll parallel where it makes sense to parallel,” he said. “It’s a work in progress at the moment and we’re working with those landholders to get the best outcome for everybody.”

Former Showtime Australia boss Peter Rose and his wife Christine own Bannaby and Cross stations.

Investment banker Keith Kerridge has about 4500 acres in the area, including the original Bannaby woolshed and the state heritage-listed Hillasmount homestead. He and his late wife Maureen – who as chief executive of Seven was the first woman to run an Australian television network – started buying rural property around the nearby town of Taralga more than 30 years ago.

Mr Kerridge is now a big-time beef producer, with about 2500 head of Angus cattle. He also owns Taralga’s Argyle Inn, a celebrated foodie destination in the Southern Tablelands, with chef and chicken farmer Hugh Wennerbom.

“I don’t think they really understand quite what it is that they’re proposing,” Mr Kerridge says of Transgrid’s plans. “Someone in the office has just decided: there’s a bit of a clear patch, let’s go through there.”

The existing power lines cut through Mr Kerridge’s land about five kilometres to the north of his house, out of sight, but the proposed line would come within 200 metres, in his estimate.

“Rural land with huge power lines going through it is not really attractive to people,” he says. “You’re talking about a hell of a lot of money in terms of the devaluation of land.”

Landholders complain that Transgrid failed to consult the community on its initial proposed route and has belatedly come to the table to talk. It was only in October it established three working groups “as part of our revised approach to community consultation”.

Taralga general store owner Mal Brierley, who runs the BRAG, said the company’s initial approach was substandard, although their recent meetings had been more productive.

“One would have thought they would have come and discussed it with us first,” he said. “They do it the opposite way – they put it on the map and if no one whinges, then they get away with it.”

Transgrid faces similar stoushes with landowners elsewhere along the HumeLink route, including in the Snowy Valley, where the council wants the company to use public land instead and compensate any affected landholders annually.

In November, following a complaint, the Australian Energy Regulator required Transgrid to go back to the drawing board and explore the feasibility of a “full double circuit” route between Maragle and Bannaby, saying the company had failed to consider all credible configuration options.

High wire tension

Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor, whose seat of Hume takes in the affected area, said he understood large infrastructure projects caused uncertainty for residents and landholders.

“I have raised community concerns with TransGrid and stressed the need for thorough community consultation,” he said. “TransGrid has since undertaken a review of their community engagement arrangements and is working to implement the findings of the review.

“I have also written to the NSW government to stress the importance of taking into account local knowledge to minimise the impact this project could have on the local community.”

Wendy Tuckerman, the Liberal member for Goulburn and NSW Minister for Local Government, said she and other MPs were “very concerned” about the level of consultation and had relayed that to relevant state ministers.

Ms Tuckerman also said national guidelines should be in place for energy infrastructure projects, similar to those for wind farms. “It’s time for a national plan to look at where we’re going to put these things and how we’re going to connect them,” she said.

Transgrid is required to compensate affected landowners under the Land Acquisition (Just Terms) Act and says it will meet with them to negotiate an agreement at the appropriate time.

Read the full article here

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