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Proposed Pumped Hydro Project Among the Largest in Australia

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Origin Energy has revealed its intentions to double its pumped hydro-storage power in the NSW Illawarra region, thus providing a potential base-load renewable electricity for up to 80,000 homes. The plans take advantage of rapidly falling renewable energy costs and the forthcoming closure of a nearby coal-powered station.

The company is considering two options both of which will take advantage of the National Energy Guarantee. The Guarantee, in turn, will provide greater certainty for renewable projects. However, neither option relies on the Government’s electricity reform; it is likely to come online around the time AGL closes down its Liddell Coal-Fired power station.

“With the energy market in transition we see an opportunity to expand, making it a really substantial pumped hydro scheme in the national electricity market,” explained Origin Energy CEO Frank Calabria at a press briefing at the Shoalhaven Pumped Hydro Scheme.

“Australia’s energy market has been dominated by base-load coal for such a long time, but as we transition we have more renewables coming in, coal-fired power stations are getting older and leaving the system — we need reliable power.”

The proposed pumped hydro project would make the Shoalhaven the second largest pumped hydro-storage power station in Australia after Snowy Hydro.

The proposed pumped hydro project would make the Shoalhaven the second largest pumped hydro-storage power station in Australia after Snowy Hydro.

The scheme has been in place since 1977 and can already double its current output. It was initially designed as a dual purpose water supply and hydroelectric power generation scheme. Water from Tallowa Dam, Fitzroy Falls, and Wingecarribee reservoirs is used to supply local communities and supplement other Sydney storages when dam levels drop to 75 percent. Power generation involves the regular exchange of stored waters between Lake Yarrunga, Bendeela Pondage, and Fitzroy Falls Reservoir.

The first option for upgrading the Shoalhaven catchment is cheaper and fulfils the original stage two expansion plans from when the Shoalhaven plant was first. It adds less additional power than option two. It would create an additional 160 megawatts of extra pump-storage capacity by building a new turbine generator, and an extra pipe, and tunnel for water transportation.  

However, option two, is the preferred option for Origin. It would create a new 235 megawatt pumped storage generator by bypassing the existing Kangaroo Valley generator and being routed underneath the Bendeela Dam. It would bring the Shoalhaven’s total generation capacity to 500 Megawatts and, therefore, create more power than option one. The estimated cost for the project is $240 million (or roughly $1m per megawatt).

Although the existing infrastructure can accommodate stage two, it has not been considered economically viable until now. But, as wind and solar are growing in popularity, pumped hydro provides a reliable renewable power source to support these more intermittent forms of energy generation.

Both options could be completed quite quickly as the transmission infrastructure is already in place to take power back to the grid.

Both options could be completed quite quickly as the transmission infrastructure is already in place to take power back to the grid.

Given there have always been plans to expand the original plant, the corridor for a new pipeline has been reserved when first built. As there will be no additional dams or land required for the project, it can progress faster with little surface impact and no requirement to acquire additional property.

The company is currently undertaking a feasibility study and working with Australian renewable energy Agency on securing funding for the project. If the preferred option two were to go ahead, 100 new jobs would be created on the construction with a number of roles designed for the ongoing operation and maintenance of the power station.

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