AFFECTED councils across the region are working together to ensure regional Victoria is not disadvantaged by a "once in a generation" project to deliver renewable energy to Melbourne.
The Western Victoria Transmission Network Project will deliver an approximate 190-kilometre-long overhead electricity transmission line from Bulgana, north of Ararat, to Sydenham, north-west of Melbourne to transfer renewable energy being generated in Western Victoria to Melbourne.
In order to do so, a new terminal station will be constructed north of Ballarat, with 85-metre tall towers constructed across the region to support 500kV transmission lines to the Sydenham Terminal Station.
Moorabool Shire Council's mayor, Cr David Edwards, said it was a "once in a generation" project so it should not be completed with the easiest and cheapest option.
On Saturday, he spoke with dozens of residents from across the region who gathered in Myrniong amid concerns stemming from a lack of consultation, as well as about the impact the project could have on the environment to their livelihoods.
We need to make sure that the benefit of this is not just limited to metropolitan Melbourne at the cost of regional Victoria.- Moorabool Shire Council mayor David Edwards
While he said he understood the need for the project, it was important that the community was not disadvantaged in the process. Especially in Moorabool Shire, through which a large proportion of the 190-kilometre line would run.
"We need to make sure that the benefit of this is not just limited to metropolitan Melbourne at the cost of regional Victoria," Cr Edwards said.
"We want to make sure that this project doesn't destroy our landscapes and has the least impact it can have," he said. "We want to make sure it delivers the best outcomes for our communities."
He said there were many third generation farmers who were "absolutely terrified" at the prospect of having 80-metre tall towers dividing their properties, while another issue is the fact the area is bushfire-prone.
He said Moorabool council, as well as surrounding impacted councils, were currently working to understand other ways the project could be undertaken.
One option he stated would have a lesser impact was underground powerlines, which would also be safer in such a bushfire-prone area.
Blackwood, for example, is one of the most high-risk communities in Victoria.
"We want to deliver green power into Melbourne but let's make sure we do it in a green way," he said.
Related coverage: Farmers voice opposition to area of interest
In addition to the possibility of affecting farmland, there is the environmental impact and of visual amenity - which could be destroyed by hundreds of towers across the landscape.
Cr Edwards said with so many people visiting the region at weekends, it could really affect tourism.
Hepburn Shire Council mayor Licia Kokocinski has also expressed her "extreme concern" about the delivery of the project.
Council has only been provided with very limited information on the proposal and is very unclear of the proposed alignment, location of the terminal station (approximately 50ha footprint north of Ballarat) and generally how the 'developer' will effectively communicate and compensate impacted landowners.- Hepburn Shire Council mayor Licia Kokocinski
"Council has only been provided with very limited information on the proposal and is very unclear of the proposed alignment, location of the terminal station (approximately 50ha footprint north of Ballarat) and generally how the 'developer' will effectively communicate and compensate impacted landowners," she said.
She called for a public community session to be hosted so everybody would be able to better understand the project.
The council, along with surrounding impacted councils, have formed a working group to coordinate the best outcomes for the community and is writing to the relevant ministers.
"We call on Ausnet/Mondo to be more open and transparent with their information and work collaboratively with the impacted councils to get the best results."
The federal government commissioned Ausnet Services to undertake the Western Victoria Transmission Line Project, though planning approvals will need to be provided by the state government.
Federal member Catherine King said while the project was important, the way the consultation process had been conducted was "absolutely appalling" and she had spoken to the operators about this.
Ms King backed up the call for the lines to be built underground, especially in high fire danger areas.
She said she will continue to advocate on behalf of the community to the federal government and would be in contact with the federal energy minister, Angus Taylor.
In a statement last week, Ausnet said that an area of interest had been determined but not the exact route and it was consulting with communities and landholders.
The state government and City of Ballarat were also contacted for comment.
This story first appeared on the Ballarat Courier webpage.
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