The Victorian government is fast-tracking a planned renewable energy transmission project, alarming landholders.

The government has approved a preferred development plan for the controversial VNI West project, which involves issuing a ministerial order to advance the preferred route of the planned transmission lines. 

The state has made significant changes to the preferred route and expedited the progress of a plan to construct additional transmission lines for renewable energy projects, causing concern among new landholders who will be affected. 

The VNI West initiative aims to establish 500-kilovolt overhead transmission lines from Bulgana, located southeast of Stawell in Victoria, to just north of Jerilderie in New South Wales.

 The project forms a crucial part of the state government's strategy to achieve 95 percent renewable energy by 2035. However, farmers and landowners have consistently opposed the project and called for a senate inquiry.

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), responsible for managing the project, revealed in a recent project assessment conclusions report that it favours option 5A as the preferred route, which is a variant of the previously considered option five. 

Option 5A still involves running powerlines from a substation at Dinawan, near Jerilderie in NSW, to Bulgana in Victoria, but with a revised path that crosses the Murray River north of Kerang instead of near Echuca.

Regional communities that have protested against the project, which now affects different landholders who were not initially involved in discussions. 

The state’s Minister for Energy and Resources Lily D'Ambrosio says that the new route would allow AEMO to deliver more energy while minimising environmental, farming, social, and cultural impacts. 

However, the project still needs relevant planning and environmental approvals, which will provide additional opportunities for community members and traditional owners to express their opinions. 

The state government has assured that AEMO will continue engaging in consultations to refine the route.

The Gannawarra Shire Council says the contentious transmission line project is necessary to connect new renewable energy ventures to the electricity grid, and has emphasised the need to replace ageing infrastructure, citing the constraints of the current network and the importance of maintaining a stable power supply.

The revised route, option 5A, will pass through the Gannawarra Shire Council area, attracting mixed opinions. 

Bruce Mountain, director of the Victoria Energy Policy Centre, continues to oppose the project, stating that proceeding with it would be a “monumental mistake”. 

He says that AEMO's assumptions overestimate the benefits and underestimate the costs of the transmission line projects. 

Mountain believes that the latest developments, including the ministerial order to expedite the VNI proposal, will quickly set the project in motion.