Council incorporating community in future renewable energy plans

Wellington Shire aims to "prioritise community and future" with their renewable energy plans. Photo: Stefan Bradley

Wellington Shire Council says it is continuing the community’s views in its considerations of renewable energy and transmission options.

In line with the findings of the Wellington Renewable Energy Impact and Readiness Study, published March 23 2023, council has outlined its support for the transition to renewable energy within Wellington Shire. This support relies on thorough consultation with the Wellington community and adherence to all statutory approval processes for individual projects.

Council’s position statement on renewable energy recognises the need to integrate new onshore transmission lines into the Latrobe Valley electricity network.

It is also committed to working closely with the state government to ensure that any expansion to the electricity network is well-coordinated and aimed at preventing what could end up as a chaotic ‘spaghetti effect’ in transmission infrastructure.

While there is an urgency to expand the existing transmission network, council says they understand that with estimates, a need for up to 12GW of additional transmission capacity to support the region’s renewable energy goals, planning the routes through Wellington, and Gippsland more broadly, is critical. Last month, VicGrid announced that it had recently commenced a public consultation process for the first stage of transmission to support offshore wind in Gippsland, with further details to be made public in the Victorian Transmission Plan (due mid-2025).

Initial assessments by VicGrid have favoured overhead transmission solutions due to cost considerations. However, council is keen to understand the broader implications for the Gippsland region, questioning whether current plans offer a sustainable solution for the future or merely serve as a cost-cutting measure for the present. Wellington Shire Council Mayor Ian Bye says council remains focused on ensuring the community’s perspective is heard when considering all transmission methods.

“While final decisions may lie with the Victorian Government, all viable options, including underground transmission in particularly sensitive areas must be explored to lessen impacts on the community. When considering overhead transmission projects, we will always push for industry best-practice compensation for affected landowners,” Cr Bye said.

Council is advocating for a comprehensive and integrated approach to planning the region’s transmission infrastructure. This would not only provide clarity and certainty for the community, but also investors in Gippsland, and ensure that the region’s energy future is built on a foundation of strategic, long-term thinking.

“It is essential we work towards solutions that not only meet our immediate needs but also align with the long-term interests of the Wellington Shire community and the environment. This approach will ensure a sustainable and thriving future for the region,” Cr Bye added.

Council believes it was a missed opportunity not to assess AusNet’s Gippsland Renewable Energy Zone (GREZ) transmission corridor, despite its advanced stage and significant private investment.

This project, set to generate 3-4GW of power, aims to facilitate connections for various new renewable generators to the planned infrastructure, supporting both offshore and onshore renewables. An upfront, comprehensive transmission plan that includes advanced projects like AusNet’s GREZ would offer a logical approach to meeting long-term needs and ensure the community has clear expectations regarding infrastructure impacts.