SKY IS THE LIMIT: Artist impression of Clarence Correctional Centre, which one nearby resident believes will have sufficient roof coverage to power the facility with solar panels.
SKY IS THE LIMIT: Artist impression of Clarence Correctional Centre, which one nearby resident believes will have sufficient roof coverage to power the facility with solar panels. Infrastructure NSW

JAIL POWER: Solar snubbed for high voltage powerlines

A 12.7km-high voltage powerline will be built in favour of renewable alternatives to supply power to the Clarence Correctional Centre at Lavadia.

A spokesperson said Infrastructure NSW had been consulting with relevant stakeholders and impacted landowners since mid-2017.

"The proposal to supply high voltage power to the Clarence Correctional Centre is being assessed through a Review of Environmental Factors (REF), under Part 5 of the NSW Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979,” the spokesperson said.

"Following consultation, a number of alterations have been made to powerline route to in response to feedback from impacted landowners.

"Renewable solar energy was considered during the design stage. As the Clarence Correctional Centre is a piece of critical social infrastructure, it will need a permanent and stable power supply for the safety and security of prison inmates. For this reason, solar power was considered unsuitable.”

Amid fears construction could start as early as January or February, Glenugie resident and renewable energy expert George Oxenbridge said he only recently became aware of the plan and queried why solar power was not considered a viable option.

"I personally have just put a 6.6kW system on a roof for a family in South Grafton for under $4000,” he said.

"If you multiply that 6.6kW system by (permanent jail population of) 2000, that works out at $8 million for a photovoltaic solar system that would cover approximately 10 hectares of roof space, which happens to be about the same amount of roof space of the jail.

"They will already need a backup generator because the grid can have blackouts. They could also have standby batteries. If we went full on solar out there, for sure the battery base would have to grow, and that's where we can look at available technology that's existing and being tried in places like South Australia, for example.”

Mr Oxenbridge argued advancements in technology and the opportunity to create a positive educational resource made it an attractive choice.

"For a total of about $20 million they could have a state-of-the-art renewable energy site delivered quickly by local companies and apprentices, which could also serve an educational purpose for inmates, workers and locals,” he said.

"A renewable energy site would have the potential to actually put some positive energy back into the jail and work towards real healing after it was totally imposed on our community.”

This is not the first time Mr Oxenbridge has been involved in highlighting renewable energy as a viable option for a major piece of Clarence Valley infrastructure.

"In 1990 we put forward solar power as an alternative to a high voltage powerline from Coffs Harbour to Grafton and we lost that battle,” he said.

"Three men were killed in the construction of that powerline. Something like 15,000 tonnes of timber was pushed up with bulldozers and burnt. It was smoky for about six months around Glenreagh. We now have the high voltage powerline going across from Waterview Heights to Junction Hill.

"Since then the technology has increased so much and solar power is now about a tenth of the cost.

The proposed powerline will extend from east of Grafton across about 8km of "high and dry” land and another 4km of wetlands at Swan Creek.

"The high voltage powerlines will make a significant prime growth area of Grafton uninhabitable, as people won't want to live within at least 25 metres either side,” Mr Oxenbridge said.

"If we take a factor of 50m (total width) by 8km, we get the equivalent of 5000 home sites (at 800sqm per site) of uninhabitable land generated by this powerline in our immediate area.”

"It then connects to the coal-fired grid which we have to build another power station in the Hunter Valley for.”

Work to supply high voltage power to the Clarence Correctional Centre is being completed under State Environmental Planning Policy (Infrastructure) 2007 (ISEPP).

Clause 41 of ISEPP permits development on any land for the purpose of an electricity transmission or distribution network to be carried out by or on behalf of a public authority without consent. As the proposal is for an electricity transmission line and is to be carried out on behalf of Infrastructure NSW, development consent from Clarence Valley Council is not required.