Renewable Energy Zones and Best Planning Practices

Renewable Energy Zones and Best Planning Practices

The State Government must rule out construction of overhead transmission infrastructure

The Andrew’s Government must immediately rule out construction of overhead transmission infrastructure and consider viable alternatives that are more sensitive to rural communities and the environment.

The State Government of Victoria’s Renewable Energy Zones Development Plan needs to apply best planning practices and consider social, economic and environmental impacts in the transmission of all renewable energy across the state of Victoria.

The need for an effective and efficient transmission network to transfer energy generated in renewable energy zones to the State power grid is recognised but it is fundamental the impacts on environment and community be considered as part of the RIT-T process. All transmission projects should be required to comprehensively consider social and environmental factors and investigate underground transmission alternatives to ensure communities are not adversely impacted and the environment is protected and preserved.

A Shift from fossil fuel requires new regulatory framework and use of modern technology

Victoria’s shift from fossil fuelled power to renewable energy has sparked heated debate about the future of the state’s Renewable Energy Zones (REZs). The Victorian Government has increased the Victorian Renewable Energy Target (VRET) to 50 per cent by 2030. Meeting the VRET targets will bring forward significant investment in new renewable energy projects in Victoria but this will not be possible without large scale, cross-country connections.

The push-back from community, concerned about the impact of overhead renewable energy transmission signals a new challenge for Renewable Energy Zones in Victoria – a battle that, largely, will have to be fought by network companies who will require a Social License to Operate.

Rural communities across Victoria are united against the unacceptable impacts of overhead transmission infrastructure: altering landscape character, causing widespread damage to critical habitat for threatened species, increasing fire risk to wildlife habitats and thousands of residents, destroying visual amenity, harming local agriculture, associated businesses, and reducing property values.

For many impacted communities, overhead transmission signals failure of best planning practices, failure to propose viable alternative underground HVDC solutions and the avoidance of genuine multi-sector consultation on the REZ Development Plan. Much environmental vandalism and visual pollution has been wrought in the name of electricity transmission and until now network regulators and operators have rarely been held to account. Overhead transmission lines are incompatible with our obligations for the protection of the environment and net benefit to all stakeholders, not just energy consumers.

For projects delivered utilizing underground HVDC, the straight-line distance is not critical, therefore undergrounding can use existing easements and rights of way along roads and highways. This avoids or minimises cumulate environmental effects, costs to the economy, disbenefits to communities, speeds up project delivery and reduces cost over the life of the project.

With rapid evolution in technology, integration of HVDC into existing networks provides a range of additional advantages such as improving the stability of the existing power networks and facilitating the integration of renewable energy.

Undergrounding HVDC reduces the overall level of risk to communities and the environment by:

  • eliminating the risk of damage and costly power outages from extreme weather. (A freak storm event in late January 2020 knocked six transmission towers to the ground and damaged a seventh just north of the town of Cressy in Western Victoria)
  • reducing the risk of high voltage lines starting bushfires, and avoids power having to be switched off during bushfires
  • minimising interference with agricultural and farming operations
  • minimising impact on property values
  • maintaining amenity of landscape and views
  • lessening economic impact on developments and future tourism business opportunities.

Transmission is a key and often the most complicated part of the energy infrastructure puzzle. The current regulatory framework assesses ISP projects according to their technical and economic merit over a 20-year planning horizon to guide governments, industry and consumers on the investments needed for an affordable, secure, sustainable and reliable energy future. This framework does not currently fully consider the social and environmental factors that underpin social licence. The framework policy must change and delivery should not be fast-tracked simply to meet Victoria’s renewable energy targets (VRETs).

The bid to find the best and most economically feasible solution to accommodate multiple major new renewable energy projects while considering competing values and trade-offs should be a major focus for the future of Renewable Energy Zones and interconnectors, both state and national, now and into the future.

We have one opportunity to get this right for the future of Victoria and that time is now.

We must insist on a comprehensive review of all Renewable Energy transmission projects. Overhead transmission infrastructure is not in the public interest, it is an antiquated solution to energy transmission that results in unacceptable direct impacts and cumulative disbenefits.

MPs agree we can do better

“AusNet needs to do better, the government needs to pay attention, and all behind the project need to get it right. If they don’t, the social licence of renewables will be significantly harmed.”

Catherine King MP, Member for Ballarat

“The Government has been urging us for years now to leave behind the energy generation of the past – that is coal and gas – and yet here it is proposing to connect the energy generation of the future with the transmission technology of the 20th Century”

Danny O'Brien MP, Member for Gippsland South

“The failure of the RIT-T process to fully consider the WVTNP’s costs, in the manner of a full economic impact assessment, seems extraordinary.”

Beverley McArthur MP, Member for Western Victoria Region
Government must rule out overhead transmission line
Download Media Release (PDF)

What are Renewable Energy Zones?

Renewable Energy Zones are regions with the highest potential for renewable energy development. With necessary upgrades to our electricity grid, we can harness the enormous solar, wind and hydro resources in these regions to provide clean, reliable and affordable energy to all Victorians while delivering jobs and investment for our regions.

The Australian Energy Market Operator’s (AEMO) Integrated System Plan (ISP) identified 6 Victorian Renewable Energy Zones (REZs).

  1. Central North
  2. Gippsland
  3. Murray River
  4. Ovens Murray
  5. South Victoria
  6. Western Victoria

The Victorian Government has committed to developing the REZs to meet the following objectives:

  • ensure that communities, including traditional owners, are engaged in the process
  • provide for the orderly, planned development of renewable energy resources
  • efficiently and effectively expand the grid and connect new generation
  • reduce network congestion and costs

The future of REZs will include a host of renewable developments containing varying combinations of:

  • Wind farms of varying scale
  • Solar farms of varying scale
  • Synchronous condensers
  • DCCT lines
  • Storage batteries of varying scale
  • Terminal stations

Victoria’s 6 Renewable Energy Zones (REZs)

6 Victorian Renewable Energy Zones (REZs)

Image: DELWP

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Welcome to the home of Darley Power Fight. A group of residents in Darley, Coimadai and Merrimu, united against high voltage transmission towers passing through our backyard. We came together through the realisation the transmission line will divide a narrow corridor between Darley and the Lerderderg State Park; altering landscape character, causing widespread damage to critical habitat for threatened species, increasing fire risk to the Park and thousands of residents, destroy our visual amenity, harm local agriculture and will impact businesses and property values. It will completely desecrate, in a few years, what nature has taken millions of years to create.

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