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TasNetworks – Hampshire to Staverton line


Rosalie Woodruff MP

Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Tags: TasNetworks

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, through you to the CEO, can you explain the commercial arrangement between UPC and TasNetworks for the proposed Hampshire to Staverton line?

Mr BARNETT - I can pass that to the CEO.

Mr BALCOMBE - The Staverton and Hampshire line is being constructed to connect into the UPC's, I am trying to think of the name, the north west development. They have given it a combined name between Jim's Plain and Robbins Island. I cannot remember what it is called. We will build that line in time to connect into the UPC Jim's Plain development, which they are targeting for around 2024 commissioning. We will recover the costs of that line from UPC until such time as there are other users of that line, other generators connecting into that line, and it will then become a regulated asset.

Dr WOODRUFF - I have an email from UPC from July that states that if the infrastructure becomes a regulated asset that it would be transferred to TasNetworks. What does that mean for the costs for ongoing maintenance?

Mr BALCOMBE - I will give you another example of how this model works. We built the specific transmission line that connects Granville Harbour wind farm. We contracted with Granville Harbour wind farm operations to build that line, Palisade Investment Partners, and we own and operate that line. We will maintain it over the life of that wind farm. In exchange for that, the Granville Harbour wind farm pays us an annuity which will recover the costs and all the costs of maintenance over the life of that asset. It's highly unlikely that any other windfarms will connect into that line. It will remain the responsibility of Granville Harbour Wind Farm to own and operate that line over the period of its life.

We see a slightly different situation with the Staverton to Hampshire line, because at the moment its only user will be UPC Wind Farm. They will pay a similar arrangement to Granville Harbour Wind Farm. We will own that as a non-regulated asset - what we call a non-prescribed asset. UPC will pay an annuity, similar to Granville Harbour Wind Farm, where they will pay all their share of the costs, the financing costs and the depreciation, et cetera.

What could trigger a change in circumstances for that line, is that if other wind farm proponents wish to connect into it. I am not too sure of the threshold. Bess might be able to help me. I might throw to her in regard to this.

It then becomes part of the shared network, and then it falls into TasNetworks regulated asset base, and it is treated like any other asset. Generation customers still pay a share of network costs. I will put it over to Bess to get that right.

Ms CLARK - It is possible that other generation customers could connect in. It will still be unregulated, and they would share those unregulated costs. It becomes part of the shared network when it is passed an investment test that says it is in the interest of customers in the national market, in Tasmania, to pay for that. Effectively what we have done working with Wayne's team, is look at where we see wind and pumped hydro and other resources, or we see load. Rather than building lots of lines to do each thing, we have actually set an overall plan that efficiently builds transmission that can connect in wind but can also move energy to and from other generators and to and from Marinus Link. Rather than have everyone do their own thing, we have come up with a plan that will see more efficient use of transmission.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thanks. Minister, I'm trying to understand whether the contract that would be entered into with UPC would ensure Tasmanian taxpayers don't get stuck with the burden for the ongoing maintenance. Depreciation can be worked out, but maintenance might have other factors which are out of our control.

The annuity the CEO spoke about - is that something which is set at the start, and would go for the lifetime of the infrastructure? Or is there capacity to upgrade it if circumstances change, such as climatic changes or other events that would substantially increase the cost of that asset to the Tasmanian taxpayer? Do you understand the question?

Mr BARNETT - I think so. I appreciate the question and where you are coming from. I will pass to the CEO. I wanted to clarify for the record, in terms of the UPC. My understanding is the Jim's Plains and Robbins Island Renewable Energy Parks -

Dr WOODRUFF - I was talking about the Hampshire to Staverton.

Mr BARNETT - I know. But that was your first question and there was perhaps some clarification needed. I wanted to put that on the record. Back to you, Mr Balcombe.

Mr BALCOMBE - I can confirm that all costs will be paid. Owning and operating transmission network assets is core business for TasNetworks. This transmission line will be built to the latest standards which will incorporate potential impacts of climate change, in particular. We are confident, based on our experience in owning and operating transmission lines, that we can come up with a set of maintenance costs that will be recovered. There will be no impost on the Tasmanian taxpayer.

 

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, the small community of Loongana is going to be forced to bear a huge social and environmental burden for the proposed new transmission line between Hampshire and Staverton. TasNetworks has talked a lot in public conversations about high-quality community engagement but we understand TasNetworks promised the Loongana people a community meeting more than a year ago and it hasn't happened. Why?

Mr BARNETT - I'm aware of the concern from some community members about the potential impacts these transmission lines may have on the environment, the landscape and visual amenity. I understand TasNetworks and UPC have engaged extensively and directly with the community and concerned community groups regarding issues on route selection processes. Discussions are continuing with some of those key groups such as SOLVE and the No Interaction Group.

The Cradle Coast Future Energy Hub in Burnie, a joint initiative of Cradle Coast Authority, TasNetworks and Hydro Tasmania was also opened in November last year to allow for renewable energy generation businesses to share information, engage directly with the local community and the Government has also met with many interested parties and will continue to listen to them on the proposed transmission lines.

I wanted to stress before I pass to Ms Clark that the developments are subject to rigorous planning and approval processes at a federal, state and local government level and public consultation is important. As minister I've always encouraged community consultation and community engagement, not just for TasNetworks but all our renewable energy proponents.

Mr BALCOMBE - I might leave it to Bess to deal with Dr Woodruff's original question regarding a community meeting that has been suggested by SOLVE, but we've done an enormous amount of community engagement. In fact we've had many community workshops, so there's been plenty of opportunity for people from Loongana and the broader north-west region to become involved, so I might just talk to some of those.

We had an information stand at Agfest in May 2019. We had the Tasmanian Energy Development Conference in Devonport in June 2019, face-to-face briefings and meetings with the No Action Group or members of it from July to December 2019. We had an information stand at the Burnie Show in October 2019, and extensive engagement with landowners on the proposed route from November 2019 to July 2020. Community pop-up information stalls were held in Burnie, Sheffield, Ulverstone and Deloraine in November 2019. We had the public release of the route in November 2019. We held community workshops in Gunns Plains, Ulverstone on the 30 November 2019, and Burnie and Sheffield on 7 December 2019.

We released the Business Case Assessment Report in December 2019 and associated communications. The Mitre Order and Associated Council and Public Notices in January 2020. The Registry Investment Test for Transmission and Projects Assessment Draft Report and engagements were in February 2020 in Hobart. Various radio interviews, newsletters - nine since March. Website updates, including a COVID 19 update in March 2020. Obviously COVID 19 placed some restrictions on public gatherings, in particular. Where we could, we tried to do a lot of that using on line portals such as Teams, and Zoom.

We met with SOLVE in April 2020. We met with the No Action Group in May 2020. We had meetings with Burnie City, Central Coast, Waratah Wynyard and Kentish councils between June and July 2020. We conducted eagle nest surveys and had publicity around that, and notifications and project communications in May 2020.

We again engaged with land owners on the preferred route in July 2020. We released the preferred route for the Staverton to Hampshire Hills section as part of the North West Transmission Developments. We undertook extensive website updates and updated other communications materials. We released the route options report for the Staverton to Hampshire Hills, and hosted an interactive webinar, including an extensive Q and A session with members of the community.

We attended direct briefings with representatives from interest groups in August 2020. We had drop in centres at the Cradle Coast Future Energy Hub in Burnie regarding the Staverton to Hampshire Hills preferred route on 27 and 28 August. We met with landowners, councils and community to discuss the Staverton to Hampshire Hills, the route options report in detail, in September 2020. We undertook extensive engagement in August September on the landscape and visual impact assessment for the preferred Staverton to Hampshire Hills route to gain local feedback and deepen our own understanding of the landscapes and views that are important to the community. This resulted in 12 landowners and community groups providing detailed feedback, including four submissions from SOLVE members there.

This information is being used to create a realistic montage of key tourism locations and impact, heightened spacing of tower locations to assess what mitigated message had been employed. We submitted the EPBC referral to the Staverton to Hampshire Hills route to the Commonwealth department associated public notices. On-ground ecology survey work has commenced. On-ground cultural survey work has commenced. There have been numerous briefings at council executive officer level across the north west.

I suggest we have offered many opportunities for the community to be involved.

Ms CLARK - We have offered many opportunities and we have really appreciated the significant involvement from members of the community in the Loongana Valley. We have really appreciated their involvement. As Lance said, we have spent time recently doing the Landscape and visual impact assessment. That will be released in the new year. There will be another round of scheduled engagements to work through that with the community and get further feedback.

As the minister has outlined, this is all a precursor to a very rigorous environment and planning assessment process, where there are further significant opportunities for engagement.

We have engaged with the community in various ways. The community has expressed interest in engaging in different ways. I am proud of the work our team has done to listen to the community. Our route options report reflects the feedback we received, and how we took that into account to revise the route.

Dr WOODRUFF - As I listened to the answer, I was feeling the rising tide of frustration in myself that people in the Loongana community have expressed to me, which is that much of the stuff on that huge list was essentially communication. That is the difference.

The community asked for, and was promised, a community meeting. I would like to let TasNetworks know, with all these highly paid people doing a lot of information provision, I do not see, and neither does the community, that releasing business cases, releasing regulatory draft tests, releasing minor information is anything to do with asking the community what their specific concerns are about the local impacts on their area of bushfire risk, of the loss of their lifestyle, of the effect on their property prices, of their ability to be able to get in and out in a fire, of the forestry communities the beauty that they've had for generations. That is what people want to be able to have a group conversation about.

I would like Mr Balcombe to understand that although one or two people from SOLVE may have met, and I am sure they did in April, and NAG may have met, it is very difficult for them to represent their views back to the community.

CHAIR - I ask you to ask your question.

Dr WOODRUFF - I asked the question last time: why hasn't TasNetworks provided the community meeting that was promised so there can be mutual discussion among locally affected people about local impacts?

Mr BALCOMBE - I suggest we've offered every opportunity for community meetings. A lot of our engagement has been impacted by COVID-19, so for groups and gatherings that has had limitations. I suggest we've provided every opportunity for the community to meet.

Ms CLARK - Many of the forums were not one-way of communication. We had facilitated sessions, we had maps, we had opportunities for community in many varied forums to articulate all the things you've outlined. What they value in the community, what's important to them, what they wanted us to take into account. We had feedback from a number of community members that they were very pleased that we had listened. We wrote a report summarising the key concern. There was feedback from a number of councils that were hearing from their local communities that they felt we'd done a good job in capturing the feedback from communities and reflecting it in our plans.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you for that information. The most affected community, the Loongana community, hasn't had the public meeting that was promised. Will you commit to providing the form of engagement that community really needs, that is not restricted and is not orchestrated by TasNetworks, which is a public meeting in a local hall to have the conversation about their concerns and the changes that would happen from the proposed line?

Ms CLARK - We will commit to continue to engage with the community. Our advisers suggest that sometimes those forums don't provide a good opportunity for all voices in the community to be heard. We will continue to take advice as to how we best engage with the community so that all community members have a fair say and are heard.

Dr WOODRUFF - You might need to get some experts in running community meetings. They are uncomfortable places where people get to hear. That is the point.

 

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, it's very disappointing to hear the comments earlier about TasNetworks continuing, it seems, to go the way of other major corporations and some government agencies, in having very stage-managed forms of community consultation, and excessively restricting and controlling the way that people can communicate on issues that affect their lives and the area that they live in.

We spoke earlier about the bushfire risk, and I believe there was going to be a discussion about that with the Tasmania Fire Service, which is good. It would be very helpful if there was a three way conversation with the community in Loongana so they, with their local bushfire people and the expertise at the higher levels, could understand the risk and how it will be managed.

Can TasNetworks commit to having a three way conversation, with an appropriate facilitator if there aren't people in TasNetworks able to work with community meetings? They can be charged places, but they are very important places for mutual learning. If they are run by experts they can be very satisfactory for everyone in the community to hear all the information together, and share experiences and concerns together.

Mr BALCOMBE - As we have said, community meetings have to be properly organised. The advice we have is that with town hall meetings such as the one that you are suggesting, the loudest voice has the most say. We don't condone that. We will continue to do our community engagement, which is long and detailed, as I have already provided the committee. We will continue to engage with the community.

Dr WOODRUFF - Not on the bushfire. Okay.

Mr BALCOMBE - That will include bushfires. It will include environmental. It will include the whole project.

Dr WOODRUFF - I will make a statement, if it is going to be another question. I went to a very controversial community conversation at a town hall public meeting in Huonville recently, about Jeffreys Track. A lot of people were there. It was very well run. People from a whole range of views were heard. So, I do not accept that it is not possible to do that. I think TasNetworks needs to work harder. There are plenty of people around able to run community meetings where people can be heard.

Yes, emotions are expressed; but it is about running it well. That is what TasNetworks need to commit to, or it will continue to get a very poor name among communities who are affected by this massive roll out of infrastructure.

Can TasNetworks please commit to investigating the sorts of processes required to hold effective Town Hall meetings - which do happen around Tasmania already.

Mr BALCOMBE - I am prepared to make that commitment to investigate as you have requested.