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Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps

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Snowy Mountains hydro scheme

What are the environmental costs of Snowy Hydro 2.0?

What are the environmental costs of Snowy Hydro 2.0?

Australia is still (sadly) stuck in a culture war over whether climate change is real. While the majority of Australians accept the fact, a significant number of political leaders are using their position to block meaningful action. This has immobilised any forward movement on developing a coherent national energy policy. If anything, the standoff between the conservatives and climate deniers on the one hand, who support more coal and gas, invoking the catch cry of energy security and reliability of supply, and those who heed climate science and understand the need to transition rapidly to renewable energy, is getting worse.

Thankfully technology is intervening to change the dynamics of the argument. The rapid development of storage technology is clearly a game changer when it comes to considering what is possible in terms of powering our nation. Domestic and commercial scale batteries and electric cars are two obvious points where the debate is changing. So is the prospect of pumped storage hydroelectricity, where a two way system is developed so water can be run through a hydro system to produce electricity, and retained below the point of generation, then pumped back up into the storage point (usually a dam) when electricity is very cheap.

As the federal government grapples with pumped hydro storage options it is becoming ever clearer that there are many places where such schemes could be established (It is estimated that there are more than 22,000 suitable locations right around Australia). But there are also plans to re-purpose the Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme to be able to re-use water by creating a second pipeline system to pump water back into the storages. This is being referred to as Snowy Hydro 2.0.

On face value this seems to be a sensible option for getting more clean energy production out of the existing infrastructure. However there are obvious and very considerable environmental issues that need to be considered before the upgrade proceeds. The initial feasibility study (which is still underway) has already identified the major question of what to do with the spoil from the massive drilling operation that would be required to make the project viable. It will need 27 kilometres of tunnels, which may be up to 12.5 metes wide, and from the report below, it is clear that, at this point, the authorities have no idea where they would dump all the rock waste that would come from drilling the tunnels. It should go without saying that the Snowy scheme is within the Snowy Mountains National Park and so the waste will need to be taken outside the park.

Continue reading “What are the environmental costs of Snowy Hydro 2.0?”

Australian snow pack in decline since 1957

Anyone who is paying attention to the state of our winters knows that they are getting more erratic. Often they start later (it’s a rare thing to ski on natural snow on opening weekend) and subject to more rain events, with big impacts on snow pack. While our climatic patterns go through natural wetter and drier cycles, climate science tells us that these patters will become more extreme, with less overall snow and shorter seasons.

Anecdotes and personal experience are one thing. But when did the snow pack actually start to decline?

While all resorts track snowfall, the benchmark of snowfall in Australia over time comes from Spencers Creek, at a site at 1,800 metres above sea level, in the Main Range of the Snowy Mountains. The following article comes from ABC Rural and gives a sense of the decades worth of data that is available from this site, and the process of getting the data. The measuring site was originally established to give the Snowy Hydro managers a sense of what water was trapped in the snow pack and hence how much water would be released in the spring. As skiers and riders, what it gives us is a long term summary of the trends in snowpack over the past six decades.

The take home message is that, overall, snowpack has been declining for decades and unabated climate change will make that worse. While the article does not drill into this issue in detail, previous analysis of this data by Terry Giesecke suggests that:

“There has been a downwards trend (in snow pack) from 1957 to 1989. It then goes up dramatically for about four years, before resuming a downwards path”. This research suggests that the increase in snow depth between 1990 and 1994 could have been due to global cooling which occurred as a result of major volcanic activity in the Philippines in 1991. Using data collected up until 2016, it also notes:

“There is evidence of further decline in the first 16 years of the 21st century.”

The full article is below.

Continue reading “Australian snow pack in decline since 1957”

The Snowy Hydro Scheme 2.0

The Federal Government’s announcement of a feasibility study into the expansion to the Snowy Hydro Scheme in NSW could potentially break the current impass in the fossil fuels vs renewables energy debate.

Pumped hydro represents stored energy, which can be created through the use of renewables. It is a ‘game changer’ in that it can, in effect, provide baseload power for when renewable energy supplies like wind and solar need back up. This will be done through what is called Pumped Hydro.

Continue reading “The Snowy Hydro Scheme 2.0”

Ecological restoration in the NSW Alps

Mountain Journal has previously profiled Elizabeth MacPhee, who has been working to restore damaged sections of the NSW Alps since 1990.

She has worked to restore ski runs, walking tracks, grazing damage, post fire repair and damage from hydro electric schemes.

Continue reading “Ecological restoration in the NSW Alps”

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