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“Explosive” energy report exposes serious flaws in $20 billion Rewiring the Nation plan

Crisis Summit to demand transmission goes underground to save wildlife, lives and money

A new expert report released today into the real cost of energy transmission infrastructure shows the Government’s Rewiring the Nation plan is based on flawed economics that favour dangerous overhead lines.

Community groups said this bias towards overhead transmission would lead to the unnecessary destruction of massive areas of wildlife habitat, increased bushfire risks and loss of life, and the decline of local industries and regional communities.

Stop, Rethink HumeLink spokesperson Michael Katz said the new report, Humelink Undergrounding - Review of Transgrid Report and Costing for HVDC Alternatives, would be delivered to the Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Chris Bowen, for his urgent consideration during a peaceful protest in Sydney today, attended by community groups and volunteer firefighters who would be forced to hang up their hard hats if the current overhead plan goes ahead.

The group is planning for a community-based National Crisis Summit in Canberra in November with representatives from other impacted states, calling for state and federal governments across the nation to take immediate action.

Community groups in impacted regional Australia said the new report showed that the industry is using incorrect costings for underground transmission which were out by almost 60 per cent. This has led to the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) and governments incorrectly favouring dangerous overhead transmission lines which now threaten Australia’s renewable energy future because of increasing community opposition.

Mr Katz said the new report by respected Australian engineering consultancy, Amplitude Consultants, was “explosive” because it found more than $4 bil­lion worth of savings and uncovered significant shortcomings in previous cost estimates around undergrounding for one of the country’s largest transmission projects, the proposed 360km HumeLink line from the Snowy to the southern tablelands region of NSW.

“This report makes a complete nonsense of claims that undergrounding is too expensive and will add significant costs to energy consumers,” Mr Katz said. “What isn’t in dispute is that the overhead proposal will rip through habitats of endangered species, increases bushfire risks and jeopardise lives and local industries.

“It is now time for the Government to rethink Rewiring the Nation and implement undergrounding as a default like other countries such as Germany. Then we can get on with the job of making renewable energy a reality in this country - with community support.”

Another community spokesperson, Rebecca Tobin said Transgrid’s costings didn’t even take into account the costs of “externalities” nor true ongoing operational expenditure (OpEx) issues which would likely make undergrounding a cheaper solution for Australia over the lifetime of these projects.

“Unfortunately, many critical environmental, operational and commu­nity costs are considered “externalities” by the industry and regulators and are disregarded in assessing large infrastructure projects over their lifespan of 50 – 80 years,” Ms Tobin said.

“As identified by the Amplitude report, it is clear that the OpEx numbers don’t properly take into account the lower main­tenance costs for underground systems and less energy losses compared to AC overhead transmission.

“This just doesn’t add up. It’s totally irresponsible both economically and socially over the long term.”

Rural Fire Service captain Bill Kingwill said he was attending the protest in the hope that he and many other volunteers didn’t have to quit the service because of the flawed Rewiring the Nation program.

“I don’t think politicians or regulators understand just how dangerous these lines become when they are arcing in bad fire conditions,” Mr Kingwill said. “I’ve seen it firsthand. It’s one flash and you’re ash. Bad policy just isn’t worth dying for.”

The new Amplitude report shows that on a like-for-like basis Humelink could be undergrounded for $7.3bn. Transgrid has previously claimed that undergrounding would be 57.5% higher in costs at $11.5bn.

While this figure is compelling, the report also identified an even cheaper underground option, which Transgrid itself advised the Aus­tralian Energy Regulator (AER) was “credible”, that could be delivered for $5.5bn - almost no additional cost, but with long-term environmental and OpEx cost benefits.

The report also debunks Transgrid’s concerns that undergrounding would cause significant delays, suggesting an underground HumeLink could be completed by August 2029, aligning with the timing needed to connect Snowy 2.0 to the grid and in line with the optimal timing identified the by Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO).

Read Amplitude's expert report here.

Read a summary of the report findings here.

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