Asking a cursory ‘Trust you are having a good and Happy Easter up in Queensland’. The reply was a shocker: “We are stuffed, I suppose the next thing we will get is a letter in the mail, stating we have to walk off our property so they can push every thing over for Ergon and the mines – Love Sharron”. What was referred to is an alleged flawed process for the duplication of the 63 klm long 110kV power line from Warwick to Stanthorpe in Queensland, and the mounting speculation a public announcement has been held back from that process.
Ergon Energy is sponsoring the Community Infrastructure Designation (CID) process, under the Section 200 of the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 (SPA). The SPA details the process required for CID, providing an emphasis on ensuring that adequate environmental assessment and public consultation occurs prior to Queensland Government approval.
But it is suspected Ergon Energy has not been fully consultative with landowners and the community on the proposed corridor and cracks are appearing in the approval tactics under the Queensland Government’s CID process. According to the ‘grape vine’ what is held back is announcing mining is coming to Warwick, which is backing off Cherribar Resort owned by Chinese investors (a Resort set up to supply 400 homes for dignified living of people of Chinese origin), and the facilities includes the operating of their own airstrip. The timeframe is said to be in about 18 months, and soon after Cecil Plains coal seam gas and open cut mining has started.
CO2Land org then felt compelled to research this story further and then noted the Southern Free Times has been running stories on the progress of the proposal by Ergon Energy to build an additional power line to supply the Stanthorpe area. A quick check indicated this means 3 supply lines to cater for the area. (Stanthorpe – translated as old English meaning ‘tin town’ – is a town situated in south east Queensland, Australia. The town lies on the New England Highway near the New South Wales border 223 km from Brisbane via Warwick, 56 km north of Tenterfield and 811 m above sea level. The area surrounding the town is known as the Granite Belt. At the 2011 census, Stanthorpe had a population of 5,385.)
According to the local government council, the population of the Southern Downs Region has increased over the past 5 years at an annual average rate of 1.4%. They say this rate is above the national average for inland regions not affected by the current resources boom. They also say the population increase has been brought about partly by the “tree change” phenomenon, and partly by the affordability of high quality housing – currently averaging 40% less than Brisbane prices. That said it would be hard for Ergon Energy to argue population growth numbers justifying such a large expenditure on an underutilized power line – at a community expense, certainly not justified for at least another 10 years without a resources boom planned!
However, the headline of Southern Free Times of 28 March 2013 read “Stanthorpe needs Power Reliability Says Springborg” – the opening paragraph included “The State Member said he remains confident in the decision making process of a Stanthorpe Power Line Community Reference Group, despite rifts in the group and a loss of community support”. Looking deeper into the story we find 6 of the 11 member CRG have resigned! This sounds a bit odd – the State Member (also the Qld Gov Minister of Health) ‘remains confident’ and the CRG has no confidence in the CID process? So what is really going on here?
On reading the entire story it is noted a number of good points are raised in the Southern Free Times and the expected well scripted responses come from Ergon Energy. But what was not covered were some big burning matters such as: Fair compensation for the loss of use or abandoning the use of your homes and property to make way for a duplication of the 110kV power line (it seem Qld in cutting the red tape for approvals also avoids the option of owners selling land affected at market price, or even accept a fair rent for the use of the land). Next, the line will be redundant unless significant growth for the need for power increases above the expected planned growth scenario. This is something the regulators must test for who benefits and whether the abandoning of the need in the lifetime of the line will result in undue costs to the community. Especially if the ‘grape vine’ is correct as to the actual need for such a large duplication.
The big issue in all this is not even remotely covered. That is the case for smearing the costs with the community when it may be a benefit for say a new mine or foreign investment interests, and that user might pull out of the area before the economic life of the line is reached. We can think of numerous examples where this happens and one ripper is Cobar in NSW – the lines were put in and the mine shut down leaving the community to pay the costs. Costs that we now know could be avoided.
What evidence is there that financial and lifestyle costs could be avoided? The answer is actually in the responses from Ergon Energy to the Southern Free Times. A absolute major give away and indicator of the real agenda – Ergon did not say that all alternatives had been evaluated, they said proposals to met expected demand for alternatives had not been included in time. They also said two lines currently serve the area including an 110kV and a 33kV line. They argued the 33kV line can only supply half of the current peak load. Extrapolate that to peak loads and the capacity of the current 110kv line is fine and allows for load growth of the predicted 18% over the next ten years. It also means demand response measures, if taken, will cater for peak load without new infrastructure. It also means a duplicate 110kV power line will at best be utilized 5% of the time – if you research the Power of Choice submissions with AEMO you will find similar analysis.
Also noted in Springborg’s response is he said new infrastructure was required and without detail other than a general statement the community is entitled to reliable power. Maybe the CRG should ask a few more questions, like:
- Why do you need more than what is stated as the need in growth scenarios (reference to published planning and forecasts from other than Ergon)?
- Why do you think technology will not provide solutions at a least cost other than conventional distribution of power? and,
- If a new industry development other than what is required by a community in growth were introduced would that industry pay a fair and reasonable rent for the infrastructure?
- Would a fair and reasonable rent be returned to the community?
Of course these questions are very likely to elicit more the well scripted replies to the questions, but then you could just ask them again only at a different level. For instance, if the state said the means is more important than the ends, it should be tested thoroughly.
Co2Land org now asks: If we consider the four primary schools of thought in general jurisprudence :
- Natural law is the idea that there are rational objective limits to the power of legislative rulers.
- Legal positivism, by contrast to natural law, holds that there is no necessary connection between law and morality and that the force of law comes from some basic social facts although positivists differ on what those facts are.
- Legal realism is a third theory of jurisprudence which argues that the real world practice of law is what determines what law is; the law has the force that it does because of what legislators, judges, and executives do with it. Similar approaches have been developed in many different ways in sociology of law.
- Critical legal studies is a younger theory of jurisprudence that has developed since the 1970s which is primarily a negative thesis that the law is largely contradictory and can be best analyzed as an expression of the policy goals of the dominant social group.
Has the Queensland Government and Ergon (a government entity) set the theme of better practice or has the quest for the means of the market overtaken good policy for the ends to look after the community? If the means is more important can we say the community consultation businesses that influence, is only in the interest of making a market other than setting up community representative groups with limited knowledge of the true agenda? Therefore are these groups only to give comfort to the Minister of state that all is well on a certain issue?