TransGrid's decision to award two construction contracts for a major transmission line project has sparked an angry reaction from a lobby group.
The company announced on December 4 that it had awarded $2.9 billion in contracts for the proposed 385km Humelink transmission line from Maragle, near Wagga Wagga, to Bannaby. The overall project is estimated to cost $4.9bn.
ACCIONA and GenusPlus Group Ltd have been appointed to build HumeLink East from Bannaby to Wondalga. UGL and CPB Contractors was engaged to construct HumeLink West from Maragle to Wagga Wagga.
A TransGrid spokesperson said the contracts were structured in two stages, with early works to begin immediately and finish in mid-2024. This included detailed design, investigations, procurement and project mobilisation.
The second stage covers main construction works, commencement of project approvals and final investment decisions, which is expected to occur in mid-2024.
"HumeLink is a vital link in the National Electricity Market which will reinforce and support the critical southern network of NSW and Victoria," TransGrid CEO Brett Redman said.
" A secure national electricity grid is dependent on the acceleration of major transmission projects needed to realise the federal and NSW governments' vision for Australia's clean energy future."
The announcement came before the state government's full assessment of the EIS and amid a second NSW parliamentary inquiry into the feasibility of the line's undergrounding.
HumeLink Alliance spokesman, Michael Katz said community groups were outraged and what he described as an "audacious action and brazen disregard for due process."
"This move flagrantly disregards parliamentary due process, environmental concerns, wider community concerns, the failure to reapply the Regulatory Investment Test for Transmission (RIT-T) following significant project changes, and, importantly, the concerns of electricity consumers who may bear the financial burden of this project, even if it is eventually scrapped," he said.
"...Transgrid's actions fly in the face of genuine community concerns that balance cost, operational and environmental impacts.
"This premature action undermines the ongoing parliamentary inquiry, creating an unjust precedent that prioritises corporate interests over the democratic process."
Mr Katz said awarding contracts at this stage was "imprudent" and raised "serious questions about the project's transparency and integrity."
The Alliance called on TransGrid to halt its "premature actions" until the Select Committee's recommendations on undergrounding were tabled.
He also disputed TransGrid's claims that 54.8 per cent of the impacted landowners had agreed to its terms with the balance "expected to be achieved before the start of construction.
"It is evident that Transgrid has jumped the gun, prioritising its own agenda over the well-being and concerns of the communities affected by the HumeLink project," Mr Katz said.
"This project, entangled in controversy and discrepancies in costing reports, should not proceed without the necessary approvals and a comprehensive understanding of its environmental and social impacts."
But TransGrid has already started some work on the line. It expects the EIS to be approved by state and federal governments next year and is aiming to finish the project in 2026. The cost has blown out from an initial $1.3bn estimate to $4.9bn.
Mr Redman said the company acknowledged community sensitivities.
"We have undertaken significant community, stakeholder and consumer representative engagement and selected the most beneficial route that appropriately balances cost, environmental impacts and amenity impacts for local communities," he said.
"...Transgrid and its delivery partners will continue to engage with landowners, communities and stakeholders on HumeLink and VNI West and invest in local regions to enhance job, education and training opportunities and help boost local economies."