UPDATED with comment from AusNet September 24
As community anger over the proposed Western Victorian Transmission Network Project continues, the independent Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner Andrew Dyer met with farmers along the corridor of interest.
The project aims to connect new renewable energy generators in the state's west to the grid, by building high-voltage transmission lines - however, the planned routes, which have not yet been finalised, will cross over valuable farmland between Ararat and Melbourne's western edge.
AusNet Services' commercial arm Mondo was contracted to design, build and maintain the project.
For more than 12 months, farmers and landholders have continued to oppose the project, and Mr Dyer, in his role as commissioner, is seeking to clarify facts and help with negotiations.
On Thursday, he visited several sites along the corridor, including in Mount Prospect and near Kingston.
Kingston and District Power Alliance chair Kain Richardson, a fifth-generation farmer in Newlyn, presented him with a document outlining the community's numerous concerns, from the effect on farmland to environmental, heritage, and fire issues.
"I've spent my working life trying to set the farm up to run as efficiently as possible - I believe the powerlines fly in the face of any efficiencies," he said.
"Sales out of McCain's gate alone over a five year period would more than justify the costs of putting these powerlines underground.
"Intensive horticulture areas, or irrigation areas, are farmed very differently to broadacre areas, and the average size of an intensive horticulture farm is a lot smaller than broadacre, so your percentage of ground affected by the easement is far more destructive than in the broadacre scheme of things.
"I don't believe, in my working lifetime, there's been an issue that's galvanised people from one end to the other against the project, it's an incredible feat that everyone's pulled together in protest."
Near Blampied, landholder Jan Alles said "every square inch" of farmland is valuable, adding it was a good thing for Mr Dyer to see firsthand.
"We're hoping this will go a bit further, and we'll see him again - it's not just the one-off thing, he needs to meet with more people, look around and get a feel for the area," he said.
"It's not just food production - there's a UNESCO world heritage listing bid involved, there's all the history, the gold mines, there's so much for tourism.
"It's a small area, and for them to be thinking of putting towers in, it will lead to untold damage."
Kieran Prendergast runs a trail-riding business in Newlyn North, often holding weddings on his property.
He said the proposed towers, and potential terminal station required, would drastically affect his business.
"Riding under towers - it's not what people will want to do on their day off from the big smoke," he said.
"There'll be heavy vehicles going down my road, and that's dangerous for the trail riders."
Mr Dyer said he was keen to return to the area in the future.
"Some don't want powerlines in any way, shape, or form, others, I perceive, are realistic that if it does have to happen, they want it done fairly," he said.
"Clearly, there's a lot of work that needs to be done to educate the community, to separate the fiction from the facts.
"We can help clarify the facts around it and put the resolvable matters to bed quickly and appropriately."
He urged anyone with issues or questions to contact AusNet, or with his office directly.
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AusNet is still completing in-depth studies for its Environmental Effects Statement, which will still require review and approval by the state government before work begins.
Project director Stephanie McGregor said in a statement AusNet was aware of the UNESCO world heritage bid for the goldfields region.
"AusNet and the heritage specialists engaged for the WVNTP have met with the UNESCO world heritage bid team several times," she said.
"The UNESCO bid team have shared information for AusNet's consideration during the development phase of the project.
"AusNet Services is in the development phase of the Environment Effects Statement, and is currently undertaking comprehensive specialist field surveys to fully understand existing conditions within the single corridor.
"These studies will help us understand the environmental impacts that could result from any proposed option for the final route and help us identify ways for those impacts to be mitigated or managed."
Stop AusNet's Towers, a community protest group, will be holding a special bonfire night across the entire 190km length of the corridor of interest on Friday night, to demonstrate "community anger" towards the project.
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