Wagga will be at the centre of two high-voltage power transmission line projects over the next few years as part of a plans worth up to $5 billion and aimed at providing cheaper and more reliable electricity.
So far, the projects have mainly attracted public attention from landowners in the Snowy Valleys council area who might fall within the potential routes for one of the projects.
The NSW electricity grid operator has promoted the projects as creating hundreds of new jobs as it looks to start the construction phase for one of the transmission lines in late 2021.
What are the projects?
EnergyConnect is a plan for a 330-kilovolt transmission line running nearly 900 kilometres from Wagga to Robertstown in South Australia.
The proposed route will go via Dinawan, Balranald and Buronga.
According to an environmental impact statement for EnergyConnect's section near the SA border, the project would use a mixture of thin towers with guy wires and ground anchors to provide stability and free-standing towers with a wider base and no other supports.
The guy wire towers would have a typical height between 50 and 70 metres and free-standing towers would have a typical height between 40 and 60 metres.
The towers would need an easement up to 80 metres wide for ongoing access and maintenance of the power lines.
The estimated cost for the NSW section of the project is $1.9 billion and construction is expected to start in late 2021 and finish in 2023.
HumeLink is a plan to build three transmission lines between Maragle, Bannaby, and Wagga that will carry 500 kilovolts.
Potential routes for the transmission lines have options to go past Tumut or Batlow in order to connect with the Snowy Hydro Scheme's 'Snowy 2.0' expansion.
If the project uses a 'Double Circuit Steel Tower' design, then the transmission towers will be up to 65 metres tall with a 70 metre easement.
The project involves building a new substation in Wagga to step down the voltage from 500 kilovolts to 330 kilovolts and a transmission line to the city's existing substation.
The project will also upgrade equipment at the Lower Tumut and Upper Tumut Substations.
The estimated cost of the project and associated upgrades was $2.1 billion and construction is expected to start in late 2022 and finish in the 2025-26 financial year.
Who is behind the projects?
The EnergyConnect and Humelink have been proposed by TransGrid, the organisation that operates and manages the high voltage electricity transmission network in NSW and the ACT.
The federal and NSW governments will fund HumeLink.
TransGrid will have the same funding structure but will also receive support from the SA and Victorian governments for some sections of the interstate transmission line.
What has been the reaction to the planning stage?
NSW independent MP for Wagga Joe McGirr told NSW Parliament in August that had been contacted by residents from Yaven Creek, Kyeamba Valley, Adjungbilly and Batlow over an "absence of face-to-face consultation" for HumeLink that was not justified by pandemic restrictions.
"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," Dr McGirr told Parliament.
NSW Energy and Environment Minister Matt Kean later responded to Dr McGirr's telling Parliament that the project was "critically important" but he expected TransGrid to "undertake meaningful and extensive engagement".
Federal Labor MP for Eden Monaro, Kristy McBain, has also posted a Facebook video in which she said community groups were "concerned about the proposal" to run power lines "through prime agricultural land".
"Their concerns centre on that fact that this will impact their lives and livelihoods; some of this land is the most productive land that they have in the Snowy Valleys, some of this land has already faced drought and bushfires," she said.
"TransGrid seem to understand the gravity of the issues that have been raised".
TransGrid responded to the statements by NSW and federal politicians by scheduling further community consultation.
What does TransGrid say about its projects?
Customers want cheaper electricity bills and a safe and reliable energy network.
Two major projects EnergyConnect and HumeLink will enable greater sharing of electricity, allow the integration of new lower cost renewable generation and provide a more secure system.
EnergyConnect, a 900km interconnector between Wagga Wagga and Robertstown in SA, will allow electricity to be shared between NSW and South Australia and Victoria.
HumeLink will also reinforce the southern shared network, unlocking the supply of electricity from the expanded Snowy Hydro scheme and deliver it to customers in NSW and the ACT.
By enabling increased competition in the wholesale energy market, these projects will help drive down the cost of wholesale electricity, resulting in lower bills for customers across the National Electricity Market (NEM), including the Wagga Wagga region.
For EnergyConnect, independent modelling by FTI London, suggests there are considerable benefits to customers ($180 million a year for NSW customers alone) in proceeding with the project.
Together, the projects will create approximately 2700 jobs during construction, mostly in regional NSW.
Wagga is a pivotal part of both projects, providing the western end-point for EnergyConnect and the most westerly location for HumeLink.
We will continue to consult with communities for the duration of both projects, which are subject to the approval of the Australian Energy Regulator.
EnergyConnect and HumeLink are priority projects for the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) and the Federal and NSW Governments.