A 2019 Australian Federal Election Policy Guide

SECTION 15

POLARISING ISSUES 

 

8 OF 8

SNOWY HYDRO 2.0

Following up on the future of COAL MINING chapter,  I have added here a complete copy of a brilliant report on SNOWY HYDRO 2.0 by ABC reporter Melissa Clark on Jan 30 2019. 

 

This report is copied and pasted verbatim.  It is a very good read. 

 

Hydro and seek Snowy Hydro 2.0 – will it ever be built?

 

By Melissa Clarke Published 30 Jan 2019

 

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-01-30/snowy-hydro/10683112?section=politics

Abandoned energy policies litter the Australian landscape.

 

The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, Emissions Trading Scheme, National Energy Guarantee: none have survived, nor have the prime ministers that proposed them. Snowy Hydro 2.0 is the only big initiative left standing with a chance of survival.

 

It’s a multi-billion-dollar, devilishly complex engineering project that aims to put a new underground power station in a remote corner of the Snowy Mountains. Power station in the Snowy Mountains Snowy 2.0 will be similar to Tumut 3 power station, but 850m underground. 

 

Can it be done? How would it help shore up the nation’s electricity supply? And is it worth it? “The critical thing is engineering and economics,” Malcolm Turnbull declared time and time again, spruiking the project in his time as prime minister. He’s been dispatched, but Snowy 2.0 may yet come to fruition.

Snowy 2.0 will be similar to Tumut 3 power station, but 850m underground. ABC News: Melissa Clarke

“The critical thing is engineering and economics,” Malcolm Turnbull declared time and time again, spruiking the project in his time as prime minister. He’s been dispatched, but Snowy 2.0 may yet come to fruition.

Brumbies are a common sight near Tantagara in the Snowy Mountains. ABC News: Melissa Clarke

Engineering

 

Exploratory works for Snowy 2.0 are due to begin shortly, the first stage in bringing the decades-old idea to life for the modern electricity market. 

Massive electricity infrastructure is dotted around the Snowy Mountains. ABC News: Melissa Clarke

The original Snowy Hydro Scheme in the Great Dividing Range was the largest engineering project the nation had ever seen, diverting water from high country rivers to generate hydro-electric power and support irrigation. Snowy Hydro 2.0 revives an old plan to link two of the reservoirs in the northern reaches of Kosciuszko National Park — Talbingo and Tantangara.

It means the power station has to be deep underground. Snowy Hydro’s own feasibility study notes “the geological, geotechnical and hydroecological conditions vary significantly along the alignment”.

 

The tunnel would have to pass through five different types of rock, three major fault zones and five rivers and creeks along the way. The soft, porous limestone karst that has shaped the nearby Yarrangobilly Caves could prove to be a technical nightmare.

The exploratory works are critical — they’ll determine whether Snowy 2.0 is both feasible and economically viable. It will involve drilling a tunnel eight metres high and equally wide to assess the rock type and, most critically, reach the possible site of the underground power station.

The power station and its turbines will be housed in an enormous cavern drilled out of the rock 850 metres below the surface of the Kosciuszko National Park. That cavern will need to be 190 metres long, 55 metres high and 30 metres wide. Imagine the space the Sydney Opera House inhabits, only much narrower.

Stringent environmental conditions are expected to be attached to the Snowy 2.0 project to protect the flora and fauna. The corner of the Kosciuszko National Park where most of the construction will take place is known as Lobs Hole Ravine. It is not untouched wilderness, but it is beautiful and lonely. In the late 1800s there was a copper mine, evident today through the network of tracks, mine shafts and some European trees scattered at the site.

A few European trees betray this valley's past. ABC News: Mark Moore

The area today is only occasionally visited by adventurous four-wheel drivers and fly-fishing aficionados, but that is about to change. For the exploratory works alone, 750,000 cubic metres of rock will be excavated. Some of it will be used to upgrade roads, but most will end up at the bottom of Talbingo reservoir.

Preparations are well underway for Snowy 2.0 exploratory work. ABC News: Melissa Clarke

The drilling will require 200 workers living on site. What is currently a grassy valley beside the Yarrangobilly River will become the site of water and sewerage services supporting an adjacent accommodation camp.

ENVIRONMENTAL APPROVAL 

Snowy 2.0 would require further environmental approvals if the project advances from the exploratory stage to full construction.

Native orchids grow alongside critical electricity infrastructure in the Snowy Mountains. ABC News: Melissa Clarke

Tantangara Dam is surrounded by eucalyptus forest.

ABC News: Melissa Clarke

Exploratory works for Snowy 2.0 will be next to the Yarrangobilly River, in a remote part of Kosciuszko National Park.

 

ABC News: Mark Moore

Flowers like this bloom across Kosciuszko National Park in spring and summer.

 

ABC News: Melissa Clarke

In summer the region is carpeted in wildflowers, but it will be covered in snow in winter.

 

ABC News: Melissa Clarke

Economics

 

 

 

Snowy Hydro estimates the Snowy 2.0 project will cost somewhere between $3.8 billion to $4.5 billion. Given it will multiply Snowy Hydro’s generating capacity by one and a half, the transmission network to distribute the power across the eastern states needs upgrading too, which is likely to cost another $2 billion. It could end up costing billions of dollars more.

 

The feasibility study finds “there are risks, opportunities and contingency amounts that significantly affect” the estimated cost. But the entire chapter on the cost estimate has been redacted, deemed commercial-in-confidence.

Tantangara Dam has a catchment area of close to 500 square kilometres. It could be expanded further to allow even more hydro-power generation in a 'Snowy 3.0' project. ABC News: Mark Moore

There is a “radical transformation” underway in how electricity is generated in Australia, according to Australian Market Energy Operator (AEMO). In the last decade, nearly 7,000 megawatts of baseload generation has been ‘retired’ from the national electricity market as coal-fired power stations shut down — equivalent to about an eighth of generation in today’s network. Between now and 2050, another 16,000 megawatts of generating capacity will be shut down, too.

There is a “radical transformation” underway in how electricity is generated in Australia, according to Australian Market Energy Operator (AEMO). In the last decade, nearly 7,000 megawatts of baseload generation has been ‘retired’ from the national electricity market as coal-fired power stations shut down — equivalent to about an eighth of generation in today’s network. Between now and 2050, another 16,000 megawatts of generating capacity will be shut down, too.

Chief Scientist Alan Finkel. Supplied

Rather than being replaced by new coal-fired power stations, electricity companies are investing in either gas or renewable energy. Compared to coal-fired power stations, wind and solar farms are continuing to improve in efficiency, can be built quickly and cheaply, and have comparatively minor operating costs.

 

Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel Chief Scientist Alan Finkel. Supplied In 2017, then-chief scientist Alan Finkel headed an independent review looking into the future security of the national electricity market, including what would happen if energy policy remains unchanged. It found coal-fired power generation would continue to decline, with renewables becoming the biggest supplier of energy, generating more than 40 per cent of all electricity.

 

That’s where Snowy 2.0 fits into the picture. Taking advantage of excess wind and solar energy to store water for hydro-generation later is a process known as ‘firming’ renewable energy, which makes it a viable alternative to coal and gas for providing baseload power.

Finkel Review: 2017

The current rate of solar and wind development is “phenomenal”, according to Doctor Matthew Stocks from the ANU Energy Change Institute.

 

“If it continues, we are at 100 per cent renewables by 2030, never mind the targets that are being bandied about,” he said.

 

That would make pumped hydro schemes like Snowy 2.0 essential.

 

“We’ve found thousands of sites around the country which will be able to help, along with Snowy 2.0, to stabilise the system,” he added.

High voltage power lines traverse the mountains as part of the original Snowy Hydro scheme.

 

ABC News: Melissa Clarke

The original Snowy Hydro project opened up the region to visitors. Snowy 2.0 will see more roads upgraded in the Kosciuszko National Park.

 

ABC News: Melissa Clarke

Tantangara Dam will act as one enormous battery in the Snowy 2.0 project.

 

ABC News: Melissa Clarke

The Future 

 

Snowy 2.0 could be completed by 2025, according to Snowy Hydro, if the economics and engineering unfold as anticipated. That is, provided Snowy Hydro’s sole shareholder — the Commonwealth — gives it the green light.

 

Both the Coalition and Labor are enthusiastic, but non-committal, until the exploratory works have been completed. The restraint stems not only from the possible engineering challenges, but also the uncertainties around the future of the energy market. Rows and rows of white boxes line underneath windmills.

 

Another uncertainty is ever-evolving technology of batteries. Currently, batteries such as the ‘Tesla big battery’ in South Australia can fill the gap between supply and demand for hours, but not days. Snowy Hydro estimates Tantangara could hold enough water to power 3 million households for a week. But if batteries become more efficient and have a longer lifespan, it could change the equation for pumped hydro schemes in the future.

 

At the moment, Snowy 2.0 meets the needs of an electricity market marching ahead with renewable energy. Its main booster in Malcolm Turnbull has departed, but Snowy 2.0 may survive the fractious political debate over energy because no-one who remains vociferously objects to it — and in today’s political climate that may be the ultimate endorsement for Snowy 2.0.

Snowy Dragonfly- The rivers of the high country host delicate ecosystems. ABC News: Melissa Clarke

Eucalypts, such as this scribbly gum, are among the diverse range of species found in the Snowy Mountains. ABC News: Melissa Clarke