Barely half of the landowners needed to agree to power lines on their properties to hook up Snowy 2.0 to the grid have done so, testing developer Transgrid’s construction timetable and raising the prospect of compulsory acquisitions for holdouts.
The NSW transmission monopoly said on Monday that 54.8 per cent of the landowners whose properties would be crossed by the $5 billion, 385-kilometre HumeLink transmission project have agreed to its terms.
Beef farmer and former banker Michael Katz is one of the leading opponents of Transgrid’s controversial HumeLink transmission project.  
That’s up from about 40 per cent in July and just over 50 per cent in October, but the slow rate of sign-ups is butting up against Transgrid’s deadline of mid-2024 to complete approvals and other early work so it can make a final investment decision on the project.
The high voltage powerline linking the troubled Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro project to the NSW grid has been mired in opposition from farmers and other landowners, despite a doubling in compensation on offer to $400,000 per kilometre traversed.
But it is vital for the struggling clean energy transition because it will bring Snowy 2.0’s vast firming capacity into the grid to power NSW homes and industries when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining.
It will also improve access to the grid for wind and solar projects that currently have their output “curtailed” by as much as a fifth below their rated capacity because the network cannot accommodate them.
The slow build in landowner consents is a threat to Transgrid’s timetable, which calls for detailed design, investigations, procurement and project mobilisation as well as all approvals to be completed by mid-2024 for a final investment decision to be taken. The main construction works are expected to start late next year.
Transgrid chief executive Brett Redman acknowledged in October that compulsory acquisition of easements across the properties of landowners who declined to sign up could be necessary, saying the community couldn’t afford for a single landowner to hold up the project. He stressed the company would pull out all stops to secure landowner agreements first.
The HumeLink transmission project will link Snowy 2.0 to the NSW grid.  
The NSW Land Acquisition (Just Terms Compensation) Act requires state Energy Minister Penny Sharpe to give 90 days’ notice of compulsory acquisition by Transgrid. Treasurer Daniel Mookhey must publish the acquisition in the government gazette.
A spokeswoman said the 54.8 per cent sign-on rate was in line with Transgrid’s expectations at this stage, and “the balance is expected to be achieved before the start of construction”.
“We empathise with landowners and the challenges they face when nation-critical transmission projects are being planned and built to accelerate our transformation to renewable energy,” she said.
The EnergyConnect project – which is more advanced and links the South Australian and NSW grids – crosses more marginal farmland and received consents from 95 per cent of landowners on its route; six had to be compulsorily acquired.
Transgrid is also the developer of VNI West, which is being opposed by farmers in northwestern Victoria and has the goal of linking Victorian wind and solar projects to the NSW grid and Snowy 2.0.
Mr Redman said Transgrid had bent over backwards to accommodate the needs of the landowners by conducting significant community, stakeholder and consumer engagement and selecting “the most beneficial route that appropriately balances cost, environmental impacts and
amenity impacts for local communities”.
Transgrid announced on Monday it had awarded major contracts for the project worth $2.9 billion to head contractors.
HumeLink East – from Tumut to the Bannaby substation north of Goulburn – will be jointly project-managed by Acciona and GenusPlus Group. HumeLink West – connecting Wagga Wagga to Tumbarumba, will be jointly overseen by CIMIC subsidiaries UGL and CPB Contractors.
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