A pumped hydro project planned for northern NSW is being fast-tracked by the State Government, with hopes it will be completed ahead of upcoming coal-fired power station closures.
The billion-dollar Oven Mountain pumped hydro project is expected to generate 600MW of hydro power during periods of peak demand.
It has been declared as Critical State Significant Infrastructure by the NSW Government.
Energy and Environment Minister Matt Kean said it would be an important replacement for ageing coal-fired power stations.
“What this is about is ensuring that we can get this project ready to be built as soon as possible,” he said.
“That’s exactly why we’re fast-tracking the build of this pumped hydro storage facility.”
The project will include the construction of two reservoirs, tunnels and an underground power station that will enable water from the lower reservoir to be pumped into the upper reservoir using excess power from other renewable energy projects.
It is part of the New England Renewable Energy Zone, which also includes wind and solar farms.
Time for change
Mr Kean said in the next 15 years four coal-fired power stations would come to the end of their lives.
“We know that in 2028, we have the Vales Point power station due to come to the end of its life, we need to see this project completed well before then.”
While the facility’s construction is being fast-tracked, the proposal will still have to go through “appropriate environmental assessments”.
Thungutti Local Aboriginal Land Council chief executive Arthur Bain said the group wanted to do a Walk on Country with the proponent to ensure there was no impact on the river and that no scared sites would be damaged during the construction.
“There’s a whole variety of different types of sites — there are massacre sites in this area, there are traditional camping sites,” he said.
Project director Anthony Melov said cultural heritage assessments would be part of the process.
“We’ve done some initial work but we need to work with them a lot more,” he said.
“That’s one of the reasons why we’re here today — it’s to start to understand those cultural heritage issues, particularly any issues around the around the river.”
How does it work?
Mr Melov described the project as being a “giant water battery”.
“We’ll be pumping water up the hill during off-peak times or times when the price is low,” he said.
“When that energy is needed, we’ll be releasing it through turbines, and when that happens we’ll be able to produce up to 600 megawatts for 12 hours.”
The project will be filled with six gigalitres of water when the river flow is high and is being explored as a way to improve water security downstream in the Kempsey Shire.
“If we were ever to get to a point like we did last January where the river was not flowing … there could be the capacity to release some of the water that’s stored to ensure that town water supplies downriver and are enhanced and that the towns don’t run out of water,” Water Minister Melinda Pavey said.
It is hoped the project will be operational by late 2025 or early 2026, following a three-year construction period.
The construction phase is expected to create 600 jobs, with 30 staff required when the plant is operational.
Mr Melov said locals would be crucial, with 70 per cent of the project cost going to civil works.
Replacing coal-fired power with renewable energy is a concept embraced by the Clean Energy Council.
The council’s chief executive, Kane Thornton, said the future of energy in Australia would be a mix dominated by renewables, and the Oven Mountain project would be an important part of that.
“This [is an] inevitable part of the future and is a great complement to the wind and solar farms that we’re also seeing rolled out around New South Wales,” he said
While hydro power systems could raise concerns about river flows and dam creation, Mr Thornton said he had few concerns due to the nature of this project.
“This is really building on infrastructure that’s already in place, dams that are in place, and therefore the impact of this project on the river systems and the environment will be all very minimal,” he said.