ANOTHER voice has added to the debate about one of the biggest transmission projects in the region in many years.
Tony Goodfellow, who is the Victorian representative at the Australian Wind Alliance, said that while the Western Victoria Transmission Network Project needed further collaboration with affected communities, the fact of the matter was that the project was desperately needed to share the renewable energy being generated in the western region with the rest of the state.
"We shouldn't lose sight of the clear need to supply Victorian energy users with wind and solar from Western Victoria," Mr Goodfellow said.
"We need to be ready for when the state's ageing and polluting coal plants close."
The project, which involves a proposal to construct almost 200-kilometres of overhead electricity transmission lines from Bulgana, north of Ararat, to Sydenham, north-west of Melbourne, will transfer renewable energy from regional Victoria to Melbourne.
However, its proposal to be completed above ground - with 85-metre tall towers which will support the 500kV transmission lines - has worried many people in the community including farmers, tree changers and council members who have concerns from farmland being divided to the impacts on the environment and on tourism.
Mr Goodfellow said years of extensive research and design conducted by the Australian Energy Market Operator demonstrated a need for the project, but the way it is completed needed to be in line with the needs of the community.
"It's been several decades since a transmission line of this magnitude was built and the nature of regional communities and their expectations have changed dramatically in that time," he said.
"What's needed now is an open and community-focused process that gives the community as much of a say in route selection as possible."
He said the proponent, AusNet, needed to identity the communities with a stake in the outcome and to work cooperatively with them to design appropriate benefit sharing programs that see the project contribute to the lives of those communities.
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Since the project and its route has come under the spotlight in recent weeks, The Courier has spoken with a number of farmers and other community members whose properties could be affected by the transmission line.
None have disputed the need for the project, though they do want further consultation and are calling for the lines to run underground.
Affected councils including Moorabool Shire, Hepburn Shire, the City of Melton and the City of Ballarat have formed a working group to coordinate the best outcomes for the community.
Hepburn Shire Council mayor Licia Kokocinski has expressed her concern about the project, given the council has been offered limited information about the proposal, its alignment and the location of the terminal station. She has also expressed concerns about the consultation process.
A large proportion of the lines will run through Moorabool Shire.
Moorabool Shire Council mayor, Cr David Edwards, told The Courier earlier this week that the project needed to be completed in a way that did not destroy the landscape, people's livelihoods, tourism or pose an added risk in a bushfire-prone area.
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"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 it delivers the best outcomes for our communities."
City of Ballarat mayor, Cr Ben Taylor, said the project was important for energy security and stability in the state and for the region, so it was critical it is done the right way.
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