Upper Hunter residents, some of whom are facing the prospect of having their land compulsorily acquired for new renewable energy infrastructure, are calling for more time to consider what their future holds.
The Department of Planning has set 28 days for public feedback on an environmental impact statement for the Central West Orana Renewable Energy Zone.
While the majority of the 20,000 square kilometre project is located in the state's Central West near Dubbo, a portion of it takes in the Upper Hunter communities of Merriwa and Cassilis.
The government's renewable energy authority EnergyCo is presently negotiating with some landholders regarding the acquisition of private property needed for the project.
Several landholders near Dubbo have already been critical of what they have described as an unfair negotiating process.
At least three Upper Hunter landholders are also presently negotiating, according to the Merriwa-Cassilis Alliance.
"They (EnergyCo) like to say they are not doing compulsory acquisitions but from the word go they let you know they can do whatever they want. They're answerable to no one. They're not listening to the state's farming body," an Upper Hunter resident who was familiar with the negotiations said.
"Their final comment is usually, well, if you don't accept this, we'll just we'll just compulsorily do it. They keep it up their sleeve and they're not afraid to pull it out."
Chairwoman of the newly established NSW Upper House Select Committee on the Feasibility of Undergrounding the Transmission Infrastructure Cate Faehrmann condemned the government's commencement of compulsory acquisition processes in the Central-West Orana REZ prior to receiving planning approval for the project.
"It is unconscionable for EnergyCo to notify landholders that their properties will be compulsorily acquired as soon as November when their project hasn't even received planning approval," she said.
An EnergyCo spokeswoman said the authority was consulting and negotiating in good faith with all affected landowners to reach agreement about hosting the proposed transmission in accordance with the Land Acquisition (Just Terms Compensation) Act 1991.
"To date, EnergyCo has not needed to compulsorily acquire anyone's land for the proposed transmission line, and compulsory acquisition will only be considered where it has not been possible to reach agreement," she said.
Landowners will also be eligible for additional compensation under the NSW Government's Strategic Benefit Payment Scheme. This scheme provides $200,000 per kilometre of transmission line hosted, subject to CPI and paid in annual instalments over 20 years.
"This payment is in addition to the upfront compensation landowners receive under the Just Terms Act which applies to all major public infrastructure projects in NSW," the spokeswoman said.
Merriwa-Cassilis Alliance President Peter Campbell said the group was seeking to have the 28 day feedback period, which concludes on October 25, extended.
"Twenty eight days just isn't good enough to read 8000 pages. For us, as individual landholders or as a community group we need more time to get across the details."
Upper Hunter MP Dave Layzell agreed 28 days was a relatively short period given the project's potential community impact.
"It might be a standard provision under the planning process but this is a significant project with community impact," he said.
The EnergyCo spokeswoman said the authority had been negotiating with many of the landowners along the proposed Central-West Orana transmission project for well over a year and had made a number of major changes to the project as a result of feedback from landowners.
"Any landowners who have concerns about the proposal can make a formal submission to the Department of Planning and Environment during the exhibition of the EIS," she said.
"Issues raised in submissions will be fully considered as part of the whole-of-government assessment of the project in accordance with applicable government policies and guidelines."
EnergyCo will be required to respond to all public submissions and this response will be made publicly available on the Department of Planning website.
Upper Hunter Shire Mayor Maurice Collison said he believed most people were now satisfied with the plans.
It's been going on for some time. As far as I know they have come up with a proposal that suits most people," he said.
"There's a lot happening out at Merriwa with solar farms and wind farms. Renewable energy is part of our lives. Ultimately people need to site down like grown adults and work out a way forward."
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