A huge project potentially comprising solar, wind, pumped hydro and a hydrogen electrolyser in north Queensland has been touted as a potential “battery of the north” and a cheaper and cleaner alternative to the coal fired generators being pushed by many in the Coalition.
Renewable Energy Partners has been given $2 million in funds from the Coalition government to advance a feasibility study into a project that would combine 1.5GW of pumped hydro, with seven hours storage, along with up to 1.3GW of solar PV, 800MW of wind energy and a 200MW hydrogen electrolyser, fuelled by the green energy sources.
The Urannah Renewable Energy Hub would be combined with the Urannah Water Scheme, a proposed 1,500GL dam and water distribution network that has been “on the cards” for several decades, and would be located between Collinsville, Mackay and Proserpine.
REP, which says it is working on the project with the Urannah Water Scheme proponents, along with advisors GHD, EY and Ashurst, says the project could provide “firm” renewable generation, reduce marginal losses by providing a local load (pumping), and provide a reliable and dispatchable supply. It could begin to deliver electricity into the grid by around 2027.
It also says it could improve the operating environment for existing and ageing coal generators by removing some of the volatility created by the increasing amounts of rooftop solar, large scale solar and wind generation. And it could provide key network support such as system strength.
“Our initial studies have already shown that our site is well suited for solar generation, the topography is ideal for the construction of a large-scale wind farm and a recent study by the Australian Energy Market Operator has confirmed the need for a large pumped hydro facilities in North Queensland, the Urannah Renewable Hub is the battery of the north,” says REP CEO Luke McDonald.
McDonald told RenewEconomy that it was not clear that the project would build up to 1.3GW of solar, but it was worth looking at the strong solar and wind resources in the area. He also said the project could go ahead even if the Urannah Water Scheme did not go ahead, although it could be scaled down too in those circumstances.
The feasibility study, to be conducted by GHD and Roam, will be looking at network connections, budgets, timing and financing needs for the project, and the potential for off-take agreements. “This will help accelerate some of those activities,” McDonald said, adding that reaching financial close could hopefully be achieved in three to four years.
REP was originally known as Yellow Solar, and has been involved in the development of several solar and wind projects in Queensland, including several in the western downs region.
It is one of a number of large scale projects being considered by various developers in the north of the state. Genex is seeking a final contract on its proposed 250MW pumped hydro facility with eight hours storage at the former Kidston gold mine, which could be supplemented by an extra 260MW of solar PV and 150MW of wind.
Neoen has a couple of large scale hybrid projects, including storage, in the pipeline, including the Kaban and Culcairn projects, while Windlab has plans to expand its Kennedy wind, solar and battery energy hub into a 1200MW “big Kennedy” project, but is facing difficulties – and huge delays – getting the first stage commissioned and generating into the grid.
Huge pumped hydro schemes are being considered elsewhere. Tasmania’s has its own “battery of the nation” project, Snowy Hydro is promoting the huge Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro scheme, while more than half a dozen different projects are jostling for position, and funding, in South Australia and NSW.
The federal Coalition government, however, is also under immense pressure from Queensland based LNP members, and other National party figures such as Barnaby Joyce, to build a new coal fired generator in the region, and elsewhere.
So while the Coalition have $2 million to the Urannah project, it also provided a $4 million grant for a feasibility study for a new coal generator at Collinsville proposed by Shine Energy.