Tractors in Ballarat
More than 70 tractors took to the streets in Ballarat to protest the Western Renewables Link.(ABC Rural: Jane McNaughton)

A sea of tractors were driven through the main streets of Ballarat’s CBD on Friday as hundreds of farmers protested the proposed Western Renewables Link.

Key points:

  • Hundreds of landholders gathered in Ballarat to protest the proposed the Western Renewables Link
  • The transmission line is vital to Australia’s switch to renewable energy, according to AEMO
  • Farmers say the large powerlines will disrupt farming practices and want the lines underground

The controversial project would see 500-kilovolt high-voltage transmission lines that could be as high as 85 metres if they were to be installed above the ground.

The lines would transport renewable energy from Bulgana, north of Ararat, to Melbourne.

Ballarat Potato Growers Association chairman Chris Stephens said if people in cities wanted cheap renewable power, it should be in their backyard.

“If people in the city want this power, why does it have to be us who pay the price?” he said.

‘Bring it on’

Hundreds of people attended Friday’s rally, with more than 70 tractors blockading Lydiard Street.

Close to 200 vehicles joined a parade that began at Ballarat airport, passed the McCain Foods manufacturing plant, and was then escorted by police through town and down the main street.

Protest organiser and Stop AusNet Towers chair Emma Muir said protests against the project will continue until landholders are brought to the table as stakeholders.

A woman speaking at a rally
Protest organiser Emma Muir said AusNet Services had not listened to community feedback.(ABC Rural: Jane McNaughton)

“The support today has been phenomenal,” she said.

“We need to sit down at the table and look at this properly. We need to understand the whole process, don’t just piecemeal it.”

Ms Muir said several state ministers and members of government were invited to attend the protest, as well as Ballarat’s federal member and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, Catherine King.

“We didn’t hear from most of them, and a couple were busy so we’re really disappointed,” she said.

“I think they’re hoping we’re just going to go away, but we’re here to stay.

“This is the first [transmission line] of so many more, and if they don’t get this project right it’s going to keep happening all across Victoria.”

People on horses holding a sign reading "Stop AusNet Towers"
Many attended the rally in tractors or on horseback. (ABC Rural: Jane McNaughton)

The protest follows on from March’s tractor rally in front of Parliament House in Melbourne.

“We’ll ramp up even more now. It makes us all feel good to come together as a community,” she said.

“We need to do stuff like this to make sure we’re heard. And there is a state election coming up. Bring it on.”

In a statement, Ms King said she fully supported the right of the community to protest against this “bad project”.

“Like everybody I am incredibly frustrated by the failure of AusNet to listen to our communities,” she said.

“I will be making a formal submission to the state government’s EES process to outline my concerns in the strongest possible terms and call for the route to be changed.”

Hundreds of people gathered in Ballarat's CBD to protest AusNet's proposed Western Renewables Project.
Hundreds of people gathered in Ballarat’s CBD to protest AusNet’s proposed Western Renewables Link.(ABC Rural: Jane McNaughton)

An AusNet spokesperson said the company understood the concerns and uncertainty a project of this size can create for local communities and families.

“We are continuing to engage and consult with communities and landholders,” the spokesperson said.

“The existing transmission network in western Victoria is at capacity.

“The Western Renewables Link is critical transmission infrastructure which will allow new renewables projects, like wind and solar, to power half a million Victorian homes as we move away from coal-generated electricity in the coming years.”

Gippsland route

Ausnet Services has also released the proposed route for high-voltage power lines for the Gippsland Renewable Energy Zone in the state’s east, but has not said whether they will be built underground.

In Gippsland there are plans for a series of renewable energy projects including offshore wind and several solar farms.

If approved, the transmission lines would run from Giffard following a route south of Rosedale and Traralgon, before connecting with existing infrastructure in the Latrobe Valley.

A map showing high a proposed transmission line route from Giffard to Hazelwoodd
A map showing the proposed high-voltage transmission line route for the Gippsland Renewable Energy Zone.(Supplied: Ausnet Services)

About 48 properties would be affected.

An Ausnet spokesperson said the proposed route would have “the least amount of impacts to landowners, biodiversity, and cultural heritage”.

If constructed overhead, the project will likely include steel towers and poles up to 80 metres high which would sit on an easement between 70 and 110 metres wide.

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