The threat of compulsory acquisition to landholders in the Central West-Orana Renewable Energy Zone is proof of a massive power imbalance between farmers and the Minns government as it ploughs ahead in pursuit of private land to meet its renewable energy goals.
EnergyCo - a statutory body established to develop renewable energy zones in NSW - last week advised farmers the compulsory acquisition process for easements to construct new transmission lines in the Coolah and Dunedoo region would commence in March.
This comes despite a final route for the lines still to be firmed up.
EnergyCo insists it is "committed to working with landowners to resolve property and easement acquisition via negotiated agreement".
However, affected farmers say they have the threat of a ticking clock hanging over them when final route options have not yet been provided.
They say EnergyCo should be honouring its commitment to work collaboratively with farmers, and that alternative proposals have not been considered.
Instead, two weeks before Christmas, several farmers have been advised that failure to reach a negotiated agreement in the next three months will trigger commencement of compulsory acquisition.
Now, we shouldn't be surprised by the timing - governments are great at rolling out announcements on Friday afternoons or on public holidays, so this is no different.
However, what we should be surprised at is the arrogance of the process and those driving it.
The pre-acquisition notices have been automatically issued without any regard for the status of negotiations or the personal circumstances of individual landowners.
In its draft 2024 roadmap for energy transition, which was also released last week, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) identified social licence around energy transition as a major risk to meeting project delivery targets and, therefore, a risk to overall energy supply as coal generators are retired.
AEMO says trust-based relationships are "critical" for the energy transition.
"Communities must be engaged so that social licence for these rules and investments is earned," the AEMO draft plan reads.
"These issues take time to resolve well."
Many farmers are still in the queue waiting for their own independent valuations, with reports of many months for valuations and reports due to the sheer volume of work facing the small number of regional valuers not aligned with energy companies.
Landholders and community members have engaged actively to offer alternative options to the ones that have been proposed for the Central-West Orana Renewable Energy Zone.
These alternative options include the utilisation of public land, as well as the utilisation of land where wind and solar projects already exist.
The automatic issuing of acquisition notices, particularly over the traditional holiday period, needs to stop and the government must allow adequate time for good faith negotiations to take place on actual, determined route options.
It is time for all the bully boy tactics to end.
- Lucy Knight is a woolgrower from the NSW Southern Tablelands and a former press gallery journalist.