Community action against big power

The Stop the Eastern Terminal Substation (SETS) Action Group, in the Perth Hills area, is an outstanding example of what can be achieved by community-based action groups.

Fighting a destructive proposal by Western Power (Western Australia's main electricity provider) to build a substation in state forest, SETS achieved an initial 12-month postponement of the project, collected more than 2000 petition signatures, and encouraged more than 600 written submissions to Western Power.

SETS formed in September, 2007, after a failed attempt at community consultation by Western Power, during which Kalamunda residents were asked to nominate a preferred location for a new terminal substation in the forest east of the suburb. Residents unanimously rejected Western Power's proposal and established SETS to stop the devastation of the forest.

SETS identifies five concerns: the destruction of the northern jarrah forest through land clearing, dieback disease spread and fire risk; native wildlife decline; the development of localised bauxite mining (eight kilometres from Mundaring Weir Dam); the facilitation of inappropriate high-density Hills sub-division developments and contribution to climate change.

Western Power is currently upgrading the powerline from Collie in the south-west of the state — the site of two proposed new coal-fired power stations — to the as-yet-not-constructed Eastern Terminal. This one powerline will see approximately 100 hectares of extra land clearing and approximately 83,000 cubic metres of soil removed. The line runs 165 km through several dieback disease risk areas, wetlands and Priority 1 water catchment areas.

The Collie-Eastern Terminal transmission line upgrade would also see Perth's power needs predominantly supplied by coal, not renewables. The unprecedented amount of land-clearing would occur in the remaining 7% of south-west bushland and jarrah forest, enhancing its international reputation as Australia's critically endangered biodiversity "hotspot".

The projected construction of Eastern Terminal into a full substation will eventually see 27 transmission lines with thousands of hectares of land cleared in 14 different directions across endangered bushland and the hills community.

Already one of these lines has been surveyed in readiness for this. Western Power documents indicate that a 66,000 kV line from Cannington to Kalgoorlie will be upgraded to 330,000 kV. The powerline cuts a pathway through residential houses in the Perth Hills and in particular along two sides of the Falls Road Primary School in Kalamunda.

During community consultation, Western Power has consistently claimed that no site for a terminal has been selected within its study area (primarily a priority 1 water catchment area to the east of Kalamunda).

However, SETS discovered that a 20-year history of planning had gone into Eastern Terminal, that Western Power had continually targeted the pristine area of Hacketts Gully and that over this time the community of Kalamunda had fought to reject the project. In May, 2007, Western Power advised residents of Hacketts Gully that it wished to construct the substation there, five years after announcing that it had no intention of ever doing so. Western Power's continued denial of having a preferred site for the Eastern Terminal is unethical.

Due to SETS' success in raising community awareness of the full potential of this project, Western Power has changed the project name from "Substation" to "Switchyard". It stated that the 20-hectare substation would now only be a four-hectare switchyard, while still claiming the 20 hectares, in case future industrial development east of the Perth Hills eventuates.

Western Power recently admitted that it had mismanaged the public consultation process and announced it will start again from scratch. This represents a win for the SETS group. Unfortunately, Western Power has also reaffirmed its desire for the terminal to be sited near Hacketts Gully, so SETS must continue to fight.

Western Power now claims there is a need to construct a gantry in the Hacketts Gully area as a temporary measure to reinforce the power supply. SETS believes that the construction of the gantry represents the "foot in the door" for Western Power in Hacketts Gully.

In yet another example in a long history of underhanded moves, Western Power announced the gantry to the community and Hacketts Gully residents without consultation. Western Power has already moved the tree loppers in and is carving up more of the high conservation value bushland.

If you would like to know more about the Eastern Terminal project, or would like to know how you can help SETS in its fight against this project, then visit the SETS website: http://www.stopeasternterminal.org.au or contact Toni on 0439 979 869.

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