A massive new pumped hydro energy storage project, proposed for Northern NSW’s New England region, has received a boost after securing federal government funding to complete a feasibility study.
The Oven Mountain project proposes to build a 600MW/7,200MWh pumped hydro facility between Armidale and Kempsey, and the feasibility study will examine how the project may lead to further investment in additional wind and solar projects in the region as part of a wider Renewable Energy Zone.
The “off-river” project proposes to utilise two naturally occurring granite basins in the region to establish reservoirs, with an expected height difference between the two reservoirs of around 600 metres and located around 2.5 kilometres apart.
The project would be able to provide up to 12 hours of storage at full capacity.
The project will operate as a “closed system”, meaning that water will only be pumped between the two reservoirs and the project would not be reliant on the damming or redirection of rivers to supply the reservoirs.
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency has committed $951,000 to support the completion of the feasibility study, recognising its potential role in a wider Renewable Energy Zone proposed for the New England Region.
In March, NSW energy minister Matt Kean announced that a New England Renewable Energy Zone would feature as part of the state’s Net Zero plan to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, and could unlock as much as 5,500MW of new wind and solar generation capacity with the support of storage and transmission infrastructure.
The $2.2 million project is being undertaken in partnership with Alinta Energy, and will engage consultants Lloyd’s Register, EY and SMEC, as well as working with AEMO and Transgrid to develop the proposal.
The project has also received funding support under the NSW government’s Emerging Energy Program.
“Pumped hydro projects like Oven Mountain can play a key role in the provision of firming up and balancing the grid as increased levels of variable renewable energy generation such as wind and solar come online,” ARENA CEO Darren Miller said.
“Renewable Energy Zones like New England are sunny and windy areas with natural renewable energy resources, but they may be in weak areas of the grid. Pumped hydro can provide system security services like frequency and voltage support and it can provide bulk energy storage to help meet the evening peak.”
Director of the Oven Mountain Pumped Storage Dr Jeremy Moon said that there was a strong potential for the project to support the development of additional large-scale renewable energy projects, by supporting the establishment of the New England Renewable Energy Zone.
“Pumped hydro technology evolution can support Australia’s generation transition. With its natural high hydrological head over a distance of around two kilometres, the Oven Mountain site allows for highly responsive synchronous machines to provide grid stability services that have traditionally been provided by fossil fuel generation,” Dr Moon said.
“We are excited for the opportunity to work with ARENA to demonstrate how pumped hydro can provide large scale storage and support the New England Renewable Energy Zone, networks, system security and increasing levels of
low cost, dispatchable power.”
The project is being proposed in the heart of the New England electorate, which is represented in federal parliament by Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce.
Despite generally holding an openly hostile stance towards renewable energy, and has strongly campaigned for taxpayer funding to be allocated to new coal projects, Joyce welcomed the commitment of funding to a project in his own electorate.
“We’ve made massive investments in the New England into renewable energy, in fact we’re one of the biggest renewable energy hubs in Australia,” Joyce said.
On Monday, Genex announced that it had secured an off-take agreement for power proposed by its own Kidston pumped hydro project with retailer EnergyAustralia.
The Kidston pumped hydro project is based on similar principles to the proposed Oven Mountain project, utilising to former Queensland mining pits to establish reservoirs for energy storage.
In March, the NSW Independent Planning Commission signed off on plans for a massive 720MW solar farm, set to be paired with 400MWh of battery storage, also destined for the New England region.
The $768 million New England solar farm project, being developed by UPC/AC Renewables is planned to be built near the town of Uralla, and will sit around 20km south-west of Armidale.
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