PM announces $2bn expansion of iconic scheme

The Prime Minister and Snowy Hydro CEO Paul Broad at the top of the Tumut 3 Power Station resized for wordpress
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Snowy Hydro CEO Paul Broad admiring Jounama Dam at Talbingo. 

Five hundred jobs are expected to come to the region starting from next year, with the construction of an expansion to the Snowy Hydro Scheme.

The addition to the Snowy Scheme infrastructure is expected to increase its output by 50 per cent, adding 2000 megawatts to a current capacity of 4,500 megawatts a year of power generation.

It will cost an estimated $2 billion dollars, with the funds provided by Snowy Hydro and the Federal Government, with the option for NSW and Victorian state governments to also jump on board.

Construction is dependent on a feasibility study to be completed this year, but the plan is not to add any new dams to the scheme; rather, the infrastructure will be added underground.

The aim is to build a 27 kilometre tunnel between Talbingo Dam and Tantangara Dam, near Adaminaby, along with a new underground turbine station 600m below the surface of the earth.

The new station will be similar in design and function to the current Tumut 3 Power Station, located at Talbingo where Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday held a press conference.

Water will be pumped up the hill between Talbingo and Tantangara, stored, and sent back down the hill through the new station to generate power when it is needed.

The motion of the water travelling at high speeds downhill is what generates hydroelectricity, and the new tunnel will create an additional avenue for this process to take place, while the new station will capture the electricity and generate it for use in the national market.

The pumping system between the two dams enables the same water to be used to generate electricity over and over and over again, and Prime Minister Turnbull promised that no additional water would be diverted from the Tumut River, the Murrumbidgee, or the farmers and irrigators that use the water in the Murray-Darling basin.  

“This is essentially using the water within the system, using Snowy Hydro as a giant energy storage system – a giant battery,” he said.

“It will work by pumping water uphill when energy is cheap in the middle of the night, pumping it up the hill to have it there to discharge and generate energy again when there is demand. This is so important, it’s securing affordability and reliability, and it’s making a great scheme even greater.”

The Tumut 3 Power Station takes only 90 seconds to kick into gear and begin generating massive amounts of power, and the new station is expected to have a similar ability. It’s purpose is partly to be used for baseload electricity –  or electricity always available for use by Australians – but the speed with which it can be fired up means its primary use will be to offset the volatility created by other forms of electricity production.

Snowy Hydro CEO Paul Broad said the company would help balance out the electricity market as it transitions to renewable sources like wind and solar, which are subject to more fluctuations than coal.

“You’ll notice that energy prices have increased significantly in the past 12 months; you’ve got Hazelwood [coal-fired power plant, in Victoria] closing, more renewables coming in, we’re decarbonising the economy, and as more of that comes in, the more of us you’re going to need,” he said.

Hydroelectricity is a completely renewable electricity source, and in fact Snowy Hydro already produces nearly 40 per cent of renewable energy in the whole of Australia – a number that is expected to increase with this expansion.  

Prime Minister Turnbull added that the expansion would add capacity to what Snowy Hydro was already good at: offsetting fluctuations in other electricity sources that contribute to the national market.  

“Snowy Hydro already stabilises the grid all the time,” he said. 

“Last night two coal fired generators tripped, and these turbines swung into action and stabilised the grid. They can take a lot of the volatility out of the energy market, and giving Snowy Hydro 2000 megawatts of further capacity is a game changer.”

Mr Broad said European technology would enable the additions be built with an efficiency and affordability that was not possible when the scheme was initially built, as well as keeping in the tradition of the European migrants who originally built the mammoth Snowy Hydro infrastructure.

“We are also very, very sensitive to the fact that a lot of people died on our scheme, and we have a great amount of respect for all the people who worked here,” he said.

“The scheme was built on wonderful efforts of a lot of people who our generation owes a great debt, and hopefully this generation will enhance it for the next generation.”

Construction of the expansion is expected to take four to seven years, with work starting next year provided all necessary environmental conditions are passed.

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