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By Louise Morrisey
November 28, 2017
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a $2 billion expansion of the Snowy Hydro Scheme, which is set to power up to 500,000 homes through a new network of tunnels and power stations.The iconic site, which has a unique place in Australian history, was completed in 1974. 100,000 men and women from 30 different countries came together to build the network of dams, power stations, tunnels, and aqueducts.
The expansion has had experts across energy, water, and sustainability discuss the implications of the construction site. Jobsite spoke to Dr. Jamie Pittock, Associate Professor at the Fenner School of Environment and Society at The Australian National University, to get his take on what has been dubbed “Snowy Hydro 2.0.”
Will history repeat itself?
Dr. Pittock explains that when the original site was built between 1949 and 1974, there were few environmental standards by which to measure the sustainability of the site against.
“Rock spoil was pushed down the side of the mountains, many roads were built which are no longer used, and many sheds are nearing the end of their useful life in the area,” he says. “There’s a real opportunity now to do a cleanup and restoration job of the damage that was done last century.”
Once again, rock spoil will be a concern in the new iteration of the construction site, as Snowy Hydro 2.0 sees the building of massive tunnels underneath the mountain range.
“My understanding of what they do is build one or more large shafts and tunnels between two reservoirs, and in that process they break out rocks,” Dr. Pittock notes. “The media is reporting ten million cubic metres of rock will be moved. The question is, where can we put this rock that won’t have an undue environmental impact?”
A Feasibility study into the scheme and construction site is set to be released for governmental consideration before the end of the year, and Dr. Pittock hopes this will shed some light on the environmental impacts and sustainability concerns for the scheme.
A changing landscape from the construction
Snowy Hydro 2.0 is going to give the East Coast grid of Australia a lot more renewable energy to be used for base power, something which Dr. Pittock sees as a positive to the program.
“It means new energy investments can occur in all manner of regional communities – wind farms, solar farms, and, of course, greenhouse gases can be reduced and we can close some coal power stations.”
But such a scheme does come at a cost. Dr. Pittock notes there will be quite extensive areas of landscape that will be affected by construction. Situated in a national park, Snowy Hydro 2.0 will have impacts on wildlife and vegetation. Particularly, when it comes to the safe dumping of the rock spoil.
“I see Snowy Hydro 2.0 as an opportunity for Australia to reinvest in conserving the Snowy Mountains region. This can start with an investment in better water knowledge and management, as well as protecting local wildlife and vegetation,” Dr. Pittock says.
Feasibility work for Snowy 2.0 will wrap up in December, with a decision from the Snowy Hydro Board expected in February 2018.
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