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Queensland looks to hydro power plans for Burdekin in state’s north

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Queensland’s Labor government has become the latest in Australia to air ambitious new hydro power plans, after revealing it is looking into the possibility of buiding a hydro-electric plant on the Burdekin Falls Dam in the state’s north.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said on Sunday her government was investigating the feasibility of establishing a 50MW hydro power station at Burdekin Falls Dam that could generate 150GWh a year – and more if the dam was raised.

In the latter scenario, the capacity of the dam – already the state’s largest, holding four times the capacity of Sydney Harbour – would be increased by 150,000 megalitres to more than 2 million MLs.

The hydro power project – which is being priced at around $200 million – is being considered as part of a broader $550 million dam safety upgrade that is required by 2035, which would include pipeline duplication and the raising of the Dam’s walls, which would both meet safety requirements and increase the Dam’s potential hydro capacity.

The Queensland government’s plans are the latest in a number of ambitious new hydro proposals, headed up by Malcolm Turnbull’s own $2 billion pumped hydro plans for the Snowy Mountains in NSW, and his more recent vision of boosting hydro capacity in Tasmania to make it the “renewable energy battery” for Australia.

Elsewhere there is Genex Power’s federal government backed (through the CEFC and ARENA) Kidston solar and storage project, also in Queensland, that aims to use abandoned gold minee pits to build a 250MW pumped hydro storage plant.

And in South Australia, investigations are being conducted into a promising site for seawater pumped hydro at the northern end of the Spencer Gulf with the potential to provide at least 100MW of dispatchable generation.

Palaszczuk said the hydro-electric potential of the Burdekin had been talked about since the 1940s, and was last proposed in 2014, at a time of renewables policy turmoil – both federally and at a state level.

“Today I’m calling on the Prime Minister to work with my government as we develop a Burdekin Hydro business case to complement the strategic assessment underway on the raising of the Burdekin Falls Dam by two metres to store more water and generate electricity,” the premier said.

“This will complement the existing Koombooloomba, Kareeya and Barron Gorge hydro power stations currently operating in North Queensland and the 800MW pipeline of renewable energy projects committed in North Queensland over the last 12 months, a $1.5 billion investment supporting more than 1400 jobs.”

The project is also being pitched as a candidate for backing through the federal government’s Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund, which Turnbull last week suggested would be used to finance both coal and gas transport projects.

“Generating hydro-electricity off the Burdekin Falls Dam, supporting other renewable energy projects and developing pipelines connecting gas reserves to communities and industry in the North, are more realistic and viable than a hypothetical and expensive coal-fired power stations,” Palaszczuk said.

“These should be priorities for the …untapped $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility and its infrastructure investment.”

“With the support of (NAIF) and the investment by the Queensland government in the development of a business case, this nation building project can become a reality,” she said.  

  • Just_Chris

    $200 million you say? exactly how much extra did the state owned power generator make this January? you know for that whole period where the average price of power sat at around 4 times the normal level. Perhaps the state could suggest that the company it owns builds this plant now, like right now, like start digging now, get on with it kind of right now.

    Rather than rattling a tin at the federal government why not pull your finger out and get on with it.

  • Malcolm M

    50 MW is a small power station, and it would probably one that operates at close to a 100% capacity factor. Since the need for hydro is now more one of balancing variable renewables, would it not be better to build a 200 MW power station with a lower pool to balance flows and pumped storage capability, and a design capacity factor of ~25% ?

    The 50 MW estimate is similar to that proposed by Meridian for energy contributing to the RET, rather than as a peaking station.

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/dec/12/burdekin-hydro-power-project-scrapped-over-renewable-energy-target-concerns

    • Tom

      150 GWh is 34% CF
      Twice the capital cost of wind for the same production.

  • George Darroch

    Would this actually run at full capacity? Given that this has competing objectives, water storage and energy generation could come at the cost of each other. Meaning that this might not be the best allocation of $200m of state electricity capital.

  • john

    Correct me if I am wrong, but i seem to recollect that this proposal was killed by Turnbull’s predecessor.
    The engineering was done if that is so.
    Once built the cost to run is very low however would be helped with a higher water head.

  • DJR96

    Don’t get me wrong, I think hydro-electric generation is great. But I just don’t see the cost effectiveness in this project. Too many dollars for too little generation, competing with water allocations for irrigation, and prone to dry periods halting generation.
    Quite simply, the funds would be better invested in solar and battery storage. 50MW of solar is a fraction of the cost, leaving plenty for large battery storage which ultimately will be more useful to the network.