Transitioning through Transmission
Australia’s power grid is more complex and dynamic than it has ever been before. When Tamworth became the first Australian town to provide streetlighting in 1888, nobody could ever have imagined that it would be used to power cars, charge mobile phones or connect us to friends and family on the other side of the world.
The first power systems would turn the power off on Sundays. Now customers have not only the expectation that power is delivered into their homes safely and reliably, they are more than ever acutely aware of how clean their energy sources are.
Coal is no longer the fuel of the future. It has served us well, but it’s time it hung up its proverbial boots.
Wind and solar have become the power source de jour and a main stay of our energy mix. Naturally it makes economic and social sense for large scale wind and solar plants to be built outside of the city limits, while cities continue to grapple with the almost permanent housing crisis.
Renewable energy generation must connect to the grid out in regional and rural areas where space is more plentiful, and where the wind and sun are best suited. This is not necessarily where the best coal resources are. That begs the question – how do we get the power from where it will be generated in the future to where it is needed?
Transmission infrastructure has been around for a long time, in fact no one has built a new transmission line in Victoria for about 40 years and as our population grows and our demands on the grid change, more transmission is needed to keep up.
However, the rubber has hit the road and now governments and network service providers are having to balance the need to build critical transmission infrastructure and the expectations of the communities who live and work within the project footprint.
Former Wind Commissioner, Andrew Dyer has now been tasked with the role of Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner – overseeing complaints from concerned community residents about wind farms, large-scale solar farms, energy storage facilities and major transmission projects. The commissioner is also responsible for promoting and encouraging best practices for industry and governments to adopt in regard to the planning and operation of these projects.
Energy ministers have asked the commissioner to establish a review ‘Improving community engagement and support for energy infrastructure.’
Energy Networks Australia is participating in the review on behalf of its members. ENA recognises the urgent need to move at pace with meeting our nation’s transmission needs, and that our power system is more complex and more dynamic than it has been in the past. Australia’s energy grid is undergoing a rapid transition which will involve new challenges for all parties. Improving community engagement and support is critical if the economy is to reach net zero by 2050 and limit the impacts of climate change.
The transition needs careful management to bring the new generation online by enabling critical transmission infrastructure before the old generators retire. It is vital that we unite and ignite communities, government and industry get this once-in-a-century build underway.
In each region of the national electricity market (NEM) there is one transmission business that has the license to build, own and operate transmission infrastructure. As we enter a new era of significant infrastructure development, these businesses are experiencing new problems, such as raising capital to finance growth while maintaining investment grade creditworthiness. We call this issue the financeability of projects.
Ensuring the regulatory approvals for a project’s revenue are fit for purpose and encourage investment in transmission projects will mean businesses can raise the capital needed to build transmission infrastructure.
Community and landholder engagement
Building respectful relationships based on trust to undertake these activities in a community and on easements is key to the success and speed in which a project can be built.
The TNSPs as the asset owners should have primary responsibility for obtaining easements rather than a separate developer. It is important to drive the right accountability and incentives and to build long-term relationships and trust with communities and landowners.
The community must be involved in the development and placement of these projects and discuss the impacts in the community during the planning and construction phases, and the benefits that will come in future. The regulatory framework should be designed to enhance and support these actions in a way that progresses our communities actively through the transition.
Transmission infrastructure is a vital link in the chain to ensure Australia reaches its net zero ambitions. By removing some of the barriers to the success of the planned projects and working with communities to ensure social license best practices are implemented TNSPs can build the infrastructure Australia needs for a prosperous future.