The NSW government has now released the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Snowy 2.0 hydro project.

At the core of the Snowy Hydro 2.0 expansion will be the establishment of a new underground tunnel linking the Tantangara and Talbingo reservoirs and the commissioning of a new underground power station that will operate as Australia’s largest pumped hydro energy storage system.

The main works for the Snowy 2.0 project will include the removal of an estimated 9 million cubic meters of excavated rock. The federal government owned Snowy Hydro has proposed that more than half of this excavated material be relocated within either the Talbingo or Tantangara reservoirs, with the remaining material used to establish permanent structures, or for land forming.

While the prospect of a renewed Snowy Hydro scheme, operating as the ‘battery’ for the eastern seaboard, has appeal from a climate angle, it has not – until now – been clear what the physical footprint of the project might be. The EIS outlines the likely direct impacts of the works that would be required under the scheme. The National Parks Association of NSW (NPA) says that the EIS ‘proposes a completely unacceptable level of damage to Kosciusko National Park’.

In a media statement, the NPA expressed ‘complete dismay at the severe and permanent impacts on Kosciusko National Park’ signalled by the release of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Snowy 2.0 ‘Main Works’.

NPA says ‘an initial view of the 1000’s of pages of the EIS show the extent of environmental destruction is overwhelming, including:

  1. A ‘disturbance area’ of 2000 ha (20 square kilometres) along a 40 km corridor of largely undisturbed native alpine bush in Kosciuszko National Park.  (That’s 5 times the size of Lane Cove National Park).
  2. Dumping 9 million cubic metres of excavated rock spoil, some of which has naturally occurring asbestos and acid forming rock.  (That’s enough spoil to fill a football field to a height of nearly 2 km or a chain of 100,000 B-double trucks extending 3000 km – Sydney to Perth).
  3. Dumping spoil in various locations in the Park, including Tantangara and Talbingo Reservoirs, thereby reducing their active storage capacities
  4. Significant reductions in groundwater and stream flows along the route of the 27 km tunnel
  5. Major issues with transfer of pest fish
  6. 100 km of upgraded and new roads and tracks
  7. Three accommodation camps and works areas, with the Lob’s Hole area disturbing bush along 6 km of the Yarrangobilly River”

NPA Executive Officer, Gary Dunnett, stated “it is a travesty that the EIS has been released 7 months after the commencement of construction[1] and 2½ years since Snowy 2.0 was announced by then Prime Minister Turnbull.

“The slow disclosure of the full extent of Snowy Hydro’s planned environmental damage to Kosciusko National Park seems designed to establish the project as a done deal and avoid any real consideration of lower impact alternatives.

Mr Dunnett noted that:

  • the Snowy Hydro Board has made its Final Investment Decision (12 December 2018)
  • the Commonwealth Government has approved the project and provided a $1.4 billion subsidy (26 February 2019)
  • Snowy Hydro has awarded a $5.1 billion contract for Civil and Electro-mechanical Works (5 April 2019)
  • and, most appallingly, construction commenced in February 2019.

“This total disregard for the environmental assessment process is even more reprehensible for such a huge infrastructure project within a National Park.”

“Snowy 2.0 should not even be contemplated in the first place, due to its substantial, permanent damage to Kosciuszko National Park.”

“NPA will be reviewing the latest EIS, though we already know that Snowy 2.0 is the largest, most damaging development by far ever proposed for a NSW National Park, let alone one in the sensitive alpine habitats of Kosciusko”.

Mr Dunnett stated that “Such extensive damage to a national park is reason enough to scrap the project.

“Also, the EIS for the four 330 kV high voltage transmission lines to transport electricity to and from Snowy 2.0 has yet to be released (expected later this year).  These lines will traverse 10 km of Kosciuszko National Park on side-by-side, twin-towers cutting a 120 m wide easement swathe through the alpine vegetation.

“Snowy 2.0 has been portrayed as a silver bullet for resolving the future electricity market and the transfer to renewable energy.”

“But, not only is Snowy 2.0 environmental vandalism, it isn’t economic.  The original $2 billion cost estimate is now approaching $10 billion (including transmission).”

“Pumped hydro unquestionably has an important role to play in our future energy mix. That doesn’t mean that every pumped hydro project has acceptable environmental credentials, and Snowy 2.0 is simply the wrong project in the wrong place.  There are many better energy storage options that are more efficient, less costly and much less damaging to the environment.

“Snowy 2.0 doesn’t stack up environmentally or economically” Mr Dunnett concluded.

 

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About the project

As noted by Michael Mazengarb in ReNew Economy, ‘the Snowy 2.0 project, the pet project of former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and embraced with enthusiasm by current energy minister Angus Taylor will substantially increase the amount of water storage within the Snowy Hydro scheme.

This will include the addition of 2,000MW of pumped hydro energy storage capacity, and 175 hours of storage, or a total of 350,000MWh of energy storage.

Snowy Hydro 2.0 will represent one of the largest single infrastructure projects underway in Australia, and will substantially reshape the operation of the National Electricity Market, with the addition of such a large amount of dispatchable energy storage.

“If approved, the Snowy 2.0 Main Works would involve the construction of an underground power station with a generating capacity of around 2,000 megawatts and approximately 27km of power waterways linking the existing Tantangara and Talbingo Reservoirs,” the DPIE executive director of resource assessment David Kitto said.

“It could increase the generation capacity of the existing Snowy Scheme by almost 50 per cent and provide 350,000 megawatt-hours of large-scale storage capacity for the National Energy Market.”

The Federal government owns Snowy Hydro Limited, after it purchased the shares previously owned by the NSW and Victorian governments for a combined $6.1 billion in 2018.

The Snowy 2.0 expansion is expected to cost an additional $5.1 billion, with an additional $2 billion in investment required to boost the network infrastructure connecting the Snowy Mountain scheme with the rest of the National Electricity Market and will take more than six years to complete even with a workforce working around the clock.

 

Have your say

The EIS will be exhibited for six weeks.

The NPA has called for the project to be scrapped because of environmental impact.

The EIS is seeking input from interested parties on the potential impacts of the project on the environment, including the impact of new tunnels, modifications at the Tantangara and Talbingo reservoirs, and the underground power station and network infrastructure.

Submissions responding to the proposed environmental impact statement are open until 6 November.