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EnergyAustralia may build pumped hydro plant next to Mt Piper coal generator

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Major utility EnergyAustralia has flagged the potential to install a large pumped hydro facility at the Lake Lyell dam which currently supplies water to the Mt Piper coal fired power station in NSW.

EnergyAustralia says the Lake Lyell pumped hydro facility could be capable of producing 350MW of electricity with around eight hours of storage, and could be built as early as 2026.

The 1,400MW Mt Piper coal generator is currently due to close in 2042, although most energy analysts suggest the likely closure date will be the mid-2030s at the latest, and it will be one of the last two coal plants operating in Australia’s biggest state grid, along with the Bayswater facility in the Hunter Valley.

“Initial studies show that a Lake Lyell pumped hydro energy storage facility has enormous potential to become a major piece of infrastructure for New South Wales in a transitioning energy system,” EnergyAustralia’s head of energy Liz Westcott said in a statement.

“Pumped hydro will continue to play an important role in providing reliable, affordable and cleaner power for homes and businesses into the future. One of the benefits of Lake Lyell is that it’s already located near major transmission lines,” she said.

It’s not the only energy storage facility planned for the area. At the nearby site of the closed Wallerawang coal generator, Greenspot is hatching plans for a 500MW two hour lithium ion battery, while Neoen is looking at a similar sized big battery at a site close to Mt Piper.

See: Big Battery Storage Map of Australia

EnergyAustralia is also proposing a 350MW, four hour battery at the site of its Yallourn coal generator that is will close in 2028, and had also been pursuing a pumped hydro storage plant in South Australia, but that Cultana pumped hydro project was abandoned because of the likely complications and difficulties from the proposed used of seawater.

Three other pumped hydro facilities in that state are still competing for long delayed funds proposed separately by the federal government and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

Westcott said the Lake Lyell proposal would use the existing lake as a lower reservoir, and build an upper reservoir on the south side of Mt Walker, on land owned by EnergyAustralia.

Pumped hydro works by pumping water up hill at times of low demand and low or negative prices, while allowing the water to flow downhill to spin generators and meet peak demand or cash in on high prices.

The water in Lyell Lake had also been allocated to Wallerawang, but its closure meant the allocation could now be used for pumped hydro.

No pumped hydro storage facility has been built in Australia for several decades, although Genex has begun work on the 250MW Kidston facility located in an old gold mine of the same name in north Queensland, and EnergyAustralia has a long term contract to operate that facility.

Work has begun on the massive Snowy 2.0 scheme, and the Tasmania government is seeking to build more pumped hydro, and a new transmission link to Victoria, as part of its Battery of the Nation proposal.

“(Pumped hydro) is a low-emission technology that can store large volumes of electricity for quick release, helping to provide cover at times when renewables aren’t available and fill a large gap that will be left by the retirement of coal power plants,” Westcott said in a statement.

“The ability to operate in seconds will ensure the lights stay on and energy costs are kept down for customers.”

The head of Mt Piper, Greg McIntyre, said the facility would support Lithgow in becoming a future renewable energy hub and protect its legacy in energy generation into the future.

“If the project goes ahead, we anticipate hundreds of jobs would be created during construction, with roles also needed to oversee the facility’s ongoing operation,” he said.

“Detailed assessments will follow, including environmental impacts and planning approvals, before any firm decisions can be made; however, the first step is consulting with our community.”

 

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