Australian Renewables Spree Meets Farmers’ Resistance

Highlights :

  • Power transmission lines that pass through the arable lands are believed to be causing challenges to farming communities.
  • Farmers say that overhead lines eat up their land, limit farm expansion plans, pose electrocution threats and compensation is inadequate.

Australian farmers are battling the ongoing renewable power expansion projects of the country as they say that the projects are ill-conceived and could upend their livelihood and also the ecology.

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The cultivators in the key farm states like Victoria and New South Wales are wary about the factors of production – linked to their farms – as the proposed trail of high voltage power lines would link new wind farms in the state. These steel towers are being constructed with massive lower lines 80 meters above the ground to carry enough renewable energy to urban homes in the coastal regions.

A total of three corridors for towers are proposed and they will criss-cross the farming regions. The protesting farmers opine that these transmission lines will also affect their expansion plans. The lines will go through the irrigated farm block. It will also disallow farmers to refuel or repair their machines under the transmission lines because they leak electricity. They fear electrocution and they believe that they practically won’t be able to do anything under these lines.

Australia has always been a leading coal and gas supplier to the world at large and its own per capita emission has been higher than the US and China. But lately, the island country is making inroads in fulfilling its pledge of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

It’s going quite fast on renewables. The Clean Energy Council says that Australia’s share of electricity generated from renewables jumped from 17 percent in 2016 to 28 percent in 2020.

It has been learnt that the growers in the states where massive Renewable Energy Zones (REZ) are being set up say that they are not against renewable energy or the project in principle. Most of them want the power cables to run underground. Key reason, among many, is that the erection of large towers – that too on a large scale –eat up the farmlands.

The protesting farmers also add that the compensation they receive is just a one-time pay while the companies shall continue to make money from the projects in perpetuity.

Australian farmers state that the country has the world’s best practice in installing underground cables. For example, the Murray Link in South Australia was laid down efficiently underground without having to cut trees or clear patches of forests. This is also environmentally suited.

New and large scale investments are being made in solar and wind farms. Hence, transmission lines are raised to transport the green energy from remote areas, where REZ are generally located, to the urban centers on the coasts.

One of the key reasons believed by the farmers for over ground transmission is that contractors in underground cabling will need to spend more capital and they are refraining from it.

In New South Wales there are five new REZs and also a colossal hydroelectric expansion project under construction. Farmers are going head-to-head with a company called Transgrid that has sold a 99-year lease to a third party to manage its transmission networks in the state. They say that this transmission line goes through the Merriwa Cassilis Plateau which is declared as Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land because of its immense levels of productivity.

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