Power network operator TransGrid will expand its community consultation and establish an independent stakeholder monitoring committee over a proposed transmission line through the Snowy Valleys.
The grid operator's actions follow a discussion with the NSW Energy Minister, which was in turn prompted by landowners' complaints detailed to Parliament by Wagga MP Joe McGirr.
Electricity network operator TransGrid is investigating potential routes for a 'Humelink' 500-kilovolt transmission line between Wagga, Bannaby and Maragle to connect with the expanded Snowy Hydro scheme.
The $2.1 billion project will create an estimated 1200 construction jobs and is aimed to deliver cheaper and more reliable power, but has sparked concern over the impact on agricultural land and the environment.
Dr McGirr told Parliament on Tuesday last week that he had been contacted by residents from Yaven Creek, Kyeamba Valley, Adjungbilly and Batlow over an "absence of face-to-face consultation" that was not justified by pandemic restrictions.
"These groups believe that TransGrid's contact with the community so far has been essentially restricted to those farmers whose properties fall directly within the proposed corridor, and that contact has been largely electronic, while those whose land is a few hundred metres outside the affected area have not been contacted," Dr McGirr told Parliament.
"For landowners who are facing massive and long-lasting changes to their properties and the region in which they live, as well as risks to biosecurity and the way they farm, this is simply not good enough, particularly after the devastation caused by the summer bushfires.
"These are people who truly understand the region. Landowners have pointed out to me that there are alternative routes available, but if there is no meaningful discussion with them then important information on alternative routes will be overlooked."
Energy and Environment Minister Matt Kean responded on Wednesday to to Dr McGirr's statement, telling Parliament that the project was "critically important" but he expected TransGrid to "undertake meaningful and extensive engagement
"On Tuesday afternoon my office convened a meeting with the member for Wagga Wagga, the member for Albury, the member for Goulburn, TransGrid and our department officials," Mr Kean said.
"I expect this to be one of many meetings as this project is developed. Yesterday I spoke directly with the Chief Executive Officer of TransGrid to again remind him of my expectations and that every issue of concern to every member of the local community is important and must be respected, and every effort is made to ensure appropriate action is taken.
"As I said in my earlier response this week, I acknowledge and thank the local communities that have brought their concerns forward to their local members".
Humelink's potential routes run on both sides of Batlow between Tumbarumba and Tumut.
A TransGrid spokesperson said the grid operator was "planning face-to-face consultation with landowners and the community in accordance with NSW public health guidelines".
"TransGrid will also establish an independent stakeholder monitoring committee to protect the interests of the community and electricity customers."
The spokesperson said TransGrid met with Snowy Valleys Council last week and was due to meet Wagga City Council on Monday next week.
"To date, the project has had over 2300 contacts with landowners via letter, email and phone calls," the spokesperson said.
"Landowners and interest groups have been offered online meetings since COVID restrictions were introduced in March."