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Report Released into Underground Transmission Lines Inquiry Extremely Disappointing: Greens

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Cate Faehrmann
NSW Greens MP
31 August 2023

Greens MP and infrastructure spokesperson Cate Faehrmann has labelled the NSW Upper House Inquiry into Underground Transmission Lines, which has just released its report this morning, as a pointless “tick and flick” exercise, with the government clearly having made up its mind months ago in favour of overhead transmission lines.

The government-dominated committee made only one finding: 

“That, in considering all the evidence, the current plan for constructing HumeLink as a 500 kV overhead transmission line is the correct approach, especially given the applicable regulatory environment and the lack of any action to date in progressing the undergrounding option.”

Cate Faehrmann made a dissenting statement, which is at the end of this release, and contained at the end of the report.

“I'm extremely disappointed by this report’s finding that massive 500 kV overhead transmission lines are the correct approach for HumeLink. It does not reflect the evidence that was presented to the committee which was overwhelmingly against overhead transmission lines. You really have to ask whether government members sat on another inquiry,” said Ms Faehrmann.

“It was clear that the government had already made up its mind before this Inquiry had even started, which is extremely disappointing for affected communities.

“I was convinced by the evidence that overhead transmission lines pose in terms of bushfire risk alone to not support overhead transmission lines, especially considering that NSW will be experiencing more severe and frequent fires in the future.

“What was crystal clear throughout the inquiry was that Transgrid has no social licence to build HumeLink with massive 500 kV overhead transmission lines, yet this was ignored by government members.

“Landholders sent a very strong message to the committee that they will fight hard to stop overhead transmission lines being built, but if they were to go underground, they’d allow access to their property tomorrow.

“The Government cannot justify overhead transmission lines for HumeLink because of urgency and then ignore the fact that only underground transmission lines have the social licence to start tomorrow.

“There will clearly need to be a significant amount of land compulsorily acquired from private landholders for this project. It’s unacceptable for this to occur when there is the option of underground which has the social licence,” said Ms Faehrmann.


Dissenting Statement - Cate Faehrmann

State Development Committee - Underground Transmission Inquiry

This Inquiry has let the people of NSW down. It was a missed opportunity to provide strong recommendations to Transgrid, the Australian Energy Regulator (AER), Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) and the Commonwealth Government that underground transmission lines must be prioritised in energy transmission.

It is extremely disappointing that, after the overwhelming evidence received by this committee about the benefits of undergrounding transmission lines compared with overhead, that this report contains just the one finding which was only supported by government members: 

“That, in considering all the evidence, the current plan for constructing HumeLink as a 500 kV overhead transmission line is the correct approach.”

This absolutely does not reflect the evidence received by the committee. Unfortunately, what it confirms is that this Inquiry was a ‘tick-a-box’ exercise by the Minister, an exercise in looking like the Government was taking community concerns around the various proposed transmission line projects in the pipeline in NSW seriously, but had already made up its mind. That’s incredibly disrespectful to the community and stakeholders who put time and effort into giving evidence. I, for one, want to reassure the community and all stakeholders that their concerns were heard by at least some members of the committee and that the end of this Inquiry is not the end of the Parliament taking this issue on.

While I was pleased that quite a number of my amendments to the draft report were supported, which ensured more evidence was included to balance the report, my amendments to change the findings and recommendations were ultimately rejected by government members. These are outlined below:

No Social Licence

It was made abundantly clear to the committee that HumeLink, as currently proposed, has no social licence.

Proposed New Finding: That Transgrid has no social licence to build HumeLink as currently planned with overhead transmission lines and, as a result, faces lengthy and costly delays due to strong opposition from the community.

  • Rejected by government members.

Bushfire and Climate Risk

Multiple witnesses gave evidence to the committee regarding the increased risk that overhead transmission lines pose during bushfires. This increased risk, in terms of starting fires and impeding firefighting, rescue and safety efforts, in the face of climate change, should be reason enough for the NSW and Commonwealth Governments to remove any regulatory barriers and instruct Transgrid to bury transmission lines wherever feasible.

The Greens amendment inserting a sub-section detailing evidence received regarding the increased risk of bushfires as a result of climate change was supported. 

However, the final report did not adequately address the concerns we heard from multiple witnesses about the impact that kilometres of 500kv transmission lines, with massive steel towers, cutting through their properties would have in the inevitable case of fire. They spoke about how it would prevent any aerial activity like irrigation and firefighting taking place, including that fire trucks and other vehicles cannot pass under transmission lines in the event of a fire.

A number of witnesses told the committee that they had seen powerlines and transmission lines cause fire, through arcing or birds hitting them. However, Transgrid said that they had no knowledge of a transmission line ever causing a fire. It was disappointing that there was no attempt by the committee to seek detailed expert evidence to be able to confirm this one way or the other. In fact, my questions taken on notice by the one representative from NSW Rural Fire Service who appeared before the committee seeking evidence of whether transmission lines have caused fires were not ultimately provided to the committee.

Transmission lines built now will have an operating lifetime of at least 50 years, yet building this infrastructure to better withstand more severe and extreme weather-related events as a result of climate change was not considered by this inquiry.

Further, the attitude of Transgrid and the AER when asked about bushfire and climate risk was to hunker down and defend how they’ve always done things. This was disappointing from a (once-public) company that owns and manages our transmission network and the market regulator, at a time when innovation is needed to ensure that infrastructure built now is able to withstand an increasingly unstable climate in decades to come.

The transition to 100% renewable energy does not have to mean 500kv transmission lines with hundreds of giant steel towers criss-crossing through our national parks, state forests and productive agricultural land, with all of the associated fire risks.

Proposed New Finding: That due to the increasing frequency and severity of severe storms, floods and fires as a result of climate change, overhead transmission lines pose an unacceptable risk to regional communities and firefighting efforts.

  • Rejected by the government

Proposed Recommendation: That, due to the increasing frequency and severity of severe storms, floods and fires as a result of climate change, and the increased risk that overhead transmission lines pose to regional communities and firefighting efforts, the NSW Government instruct TransGrid to prioritise underground transmission lines wherever feasible.

Proposed Recommendation: That the NSW Government work with the Commonwealth to prioritise regulatory reform that will ensure a fairer sharing of the cost of transmission infrastructure upgrades, including that the energy producer and government contribute.

Proposed Recommendation: That the NSW Government urge TransGrid to move to international best practice and use underground transmission whenever passing through areas of high environmental, social, agricultural or cultural significance.

  • All rejected by government members

The rushed nature of this Inquiry did not allow adequate time for members to examine the detailed evidence put to it, particularly in terms of the conflicting evidence we heard regarding underground transmission lines, including Transgrid’s constant undermining of the technology. That’s why I support a Select Committee being established that is not dominated by government members, to examine this important issue more thoroughly and genuinely. .

Due to all of the reasons I’ve outlined, the Greens do not endorse this report. 

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Cate Faehrmann
NSW Greens MP
31 August 2023



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