The Nationals have hit the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) with a united front to hammer home the message regional Victoria deserves the respect of proper community engagement and communication with all stakeholders for the proposed power link between Victoria and NSW.
The Nationals leader and Member for Murray Plains, Peter Walsh, deputy leader and Member for Lowan, Emma Kealy, and Member for Mildura, Jade Benham, met with AEMO this afternoon to detail the frustration and anger of producers across Victoria with the lack of consulting with the communities this project will most affect.
Mr Walsh says the advantage of having Nationals members in most regional seats means when a delegation representing the three electorates involved in this project walk in the front door, people have to sit up and listen.
He says the original plan was an upgrade to the existing 220kv line from Ballarat to Kerang via Bendigo, but “out of the blue” AEMO has blindsided farming communities with its Option 5 update.
“With just two weeks until a decision, it was vital AEMO very clearly understand the potential damage of its latest about face on this major infrastructure project,” Mr Walsh added.
“Option 5 is a 500 kilovolt (kV) double-circuit overhead transmission line, connecting to the Western Renewables Link at Bulgana and to EnergyConnect at Dinawan Energy Hub in NSW via a new terminal station near Kerang,” he says.
“It will gut incredibly valuable, irreplaceable farmland, including irrigation districts across the Mallee, with massive towers and miles of high-voltage cables stretching across them – that is simply wrong, and everyone knows it.”
Emma Kealy says by having the whole project covered by Nationals seats they were able to speak on behalf of all their communities at the sit-down with AEMO.
She says The Nationals also gave AEMO a lesson in how to best engage with people who “find themselves in the path of progress”.
“The community engagement throughout this process has been a joke, it’s no wonder there is so much confusion as well as frustration – and fear about the future,” Ms Kealy says.
“No-one doubts our power delivery system needs this upgrade, but we don’t have to do this much damage to prime country to achieve that outcome – you can’t eat electricity,” she says.
Jade Benham says she found genuine strength in numbers when joining her more experienced party leaders for the AEMO meeting.
She says their grasp of the issues, their better awareness of the problems was because, unlike AEMO, the three MPs had engaged in “real dialogue” with their constituents.
“Instead of being properly and fairly consulted, and given clear briefings on the proposals, locals are being blitzed by high level, jargon-heavy information so AEMO can tick a box and say it has consulted,” Ms Benham says.
“This is a sham process, a Clayton’s consultation,” she added.
“And it’s not just sour grapes by these farmers, even the best and brightest energy market experts have been damning of the strategy.
“Professor Simon Bartlett AM (previously a member of the National Electricity Market’s Reliability Panel, a Professor of Electrical Engineering and Chief Operating Officer of Powerlink) and Professor Bruce Mountain (Director of the Victoria Energy Policy Centre at Victoria University) have released a detailed critique of AEMO’s plans.
“It is deeply disturbing the experts are pulling apart AEMO’s plans and calling it a monumental mistake with an enormous risk of failure, but not as disturbing as the project steamrolling ahead regardless,” Ms Benham says.
Peter Walsh says “instead, what we are getting are city-centric Federal and State Labor governments pushing forward with an agenda, taking a politically expedient road without a second thought for how it impacts Mallee farmers and their communities”.
“And forget the power for just a minute and ask yourself, how are these fantasists planning to replace the lost food production – more imports from their mates in China?”