Member for Mildura Jade Benham says her electorate’s farming communities are about to become the collateral damage of a flawed, ideology-driven remake of Australian energy supplies.
Ms Benham says the combined Federal and Victorian Labor party dream that they can “flick some magic switch taking Victoria into the green energy world in one fell swoop” will cause unprecedented chaos across the state and country.
She says the still unknown path of the proposed Victoria-NSW Interconnector West has left Mallee communities in the dark – which is where she worries we will all end up.
“I visited Charlton to meet with confused and concerned locals now living in the shadow of new transmission lines through some of the region’s finest agricultural production areas,” Ms Benham says.
“Those producers feel as though they are being railroaded into submission by the severe lack of transparency behind a hasty push and lack of transparency from the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) in its rush to formalise its Option 5,” she says.
“The original plan was an upgrade to the existing 220kv line from Ballarat to Kerang via Bendigo but out of the blue, AEMO’s latest proposal will gut incredibly valuable, irreplaceable farmland, including irrigation districts across the Mallee, with massive towers and miles of high-voltage cables stretching across them.”
“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.”
Ms Benham says the depth of concern – even fear – about their futures saw a convoy of 50 tractors and 30 trucks lay siege to St Arnaud on Monday in a bid to send a clear and powerful message to state and federal governments to keep out of their paddocks.
She says organisers labelled the protest a show of strength and unity against the project but Victorian Farmers Federation young farmer Rachel McIntyre says she and other farmers said they were bitterly disappointed to hear the government-backed AEMO had pulled out of the meeting at the last minute.
“I was in St Arnaud alongside those producers and you could feel their pain and their concern,” Ms Benham added.
“Instead of being properly and fairly consulted, and given clear briefings on the proposals, they are being buried under high level, jargon-heavy information so AEMO can tick a box and say they have consulted.”
“And it’s not just sour grapes by these farmers, even the best and brightest energy market experts have been damning of the strategy,” he says.
“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.
“Professor Mountain was also at Charlton with me to answer the hard questions AEMO is not responding to, in fact failed to show at the eleventh hour declining an invitation.”
“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.
“Canberra claims this will be part of its ‘roadmap for the transmission revolution the country needs’ but they have not explained in any shape or form how this mystical power evolution will take place as they shut down coal and gas fired power stations before they have any viable green solutions in place.
“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 and fibre production – more imports from their mates in China?”