Fresh concerns are being raised over the environmental impacts of the Snowy 2.0 project, with green groups and energy sector experts calling on the NSW government to intervene and limit the potential damage caused by new network infrastructure in one of Australia’s most prominent national parks.
In an open letter to NSW energy minister Matt Kean and planning minister Rob Stokes, environmental groups have called on the NSW government to intervene in a planning process that is expected to see four new 300kV transmission line linkages, carried by two sets of towers built throughout the Kosciuszko National Park.
The environmental groups raise concerns that the new overhead transmission infrastructure, that would cover up to 8km of National Park lands, with substantial easements, could cause the destruction of as much as a square kilometre of the national park.
The open letter has been signed by a total of 24 organisations and 50 engineers, scientists, environmentalists, academics and economists, who want Snowy Hydro and TransGrid to be compelled to consider alternatives to above ground infrastructure, including underground transmission lines, to significantly reduce any damage to the Kosciuszko National Park.
“We urge you to insist on a comprehensive analysis of underground alternatives prior to the submission of the EIS, in accordance with regulatory requirements,” the open letter says.
“The proposed option in the EIS must be for underground cables, not overhead lines. Overhead lines would cause environmental impacts that are totally incompatible with the national and international significance of Kosciuszko National Park.”
The open letter was led by the National Parks Association of NSW, which has been an outspoken opponent to the Snowy 2.0 development, labelling it as the “worst possible project in the worst possible location“.
The letter comes as TransGrid readies to lodge an Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed works within the national park, that will be required to support additional generation and energy storage capacity being added as part of the Snowy 2.0 expansion.
The Snowy 2.0 development will see an additional 2,000MW of hydroelectric generation capacity, and up to 350,000 megawatt-hours of pumped hydro energy storage added to the Snowy scheme. The $5.1 billion project enjoyed fast-tracked planning approval from the NSW government, which saw the project as a key economic stimulus measure in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Executive officer of the National Parks Association of NSW, Gary Dunnett, said that both TransGrid and Snowy Hydro needed to be doing more to identify ways to mitigate the impacts of the Snowy 2.0 development on the Kosciuszko National Park.
“Let’s make no mistake, they are choosing overhead transmission just because it is cheaper than going underground, having no regard to the wholesale destruction of native vegetation and fauna, nor the blight of transmission towers, lines and cleared easements that would be visible over vast areas of alpine national park,” Dunnett said.
“TransGrid and Snowy Hydro should be looking for every possible opportunity to reduce impacts on Kosciuszko National Park. Both companies claim to be exemplary tenants – here’s their chance to prove it by going underground with their transmission project.
“Overhead transmission lines are totally incompatible with the fragile alpine habitats of the National Park. We must adopt international best practice, which is to avoid damage to sensitive environments by going underground.”
The concerns raised around the transmission infrastructure for the Snowy 2.0 project follow similar concerns raised by local residents and environmental groups over plans to build network infrastructure in Tasmania that would connect the Jim’s Plain and Robbins Island wind farm projects to the main grid.
Both projects highlight the potential for transmission network infrastructure, which can see substantial structures build across long stretches of landscape, to emerge as a contentious battleground between project developers, environmental groups and local residents, if the planning and consultation processes are not handled appropriately.
The Integrated System Plan developed by the Australian Energy Market Operator indicates that more than $10 billion could be spent on critical new transmission infrastructure that are already considered as actionable projects. This includes a $2.1 billion investment on HumeLink, designed to connect the Snowy 2.0 project to the main grid.
Transgrid has appointed former NSW Commissioner for Fair Trading, Rob Stowe, to led the company’s community engagement on planned transmission infrastructure projects, with the company stating that it will undertake further meetings with landowners to discuss the location of HumeLink in early 2021.
In a statement emailed to RenewEconomy, Transgrid said it always takes safety and environmental impact into consideration as a priority when planning its projects.
“Tunnelling, trenching and directional drilling were considered but ruled out following consideration of environmental impacts, safety and future disturbance for maintenance in mind,” the company said.
“TransGrid has been working with National Parks throughout project development. Independent authorities will assess TransGrid’s comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement and have the final decision.”