The NSW government has fast-tracked planning approval for the Oven Mountain pumped hydro energy storage project, designating the project with ‘Critical State Significant Infrastructure’ status.
The $1 billion project, which would establish 600MW of pumped hydro storage capacity in New South Wales’ New England region, is set to feature as a central part of a new Renewable Energy Zone being established in the NSW central-north region.
NSW energy minister Matt Kean says that pumped hydro is an ‘essential’ part of the state’s future energy system.
“The Australian Energy Market Operator says that NSW needs more than twice the energy storage of Snowy 2.0 again by the mid-2030s and projects like Oven Mountain can help us reach that goal,” Kean said.
“It can take about eight years to deliver massive pumped hydro projects and we need to get going now to create jobs and improve the reliability of the energy grid.”
The Oven Mountain pumped hydro project would be established on mountainous land near to the Macleay River between Armidale and Kempsey. The ‘off-river’ hydro storage project will establish two reservoirs at different heights, allowing water to be moved between the reservoirs and energy stored for use in electricity generation.
The project would provide 600MW of dispatchable generation capacity and up to 12 hours of storage (7,200MWh). The project is expected to create 600 new jobs within the New England region during its construction phase.
Alinta Energy is serving as a partner on the project and is proceeding after completing a feasibility study which was partly funded by a grant from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. The project had also received early funding support from the NSW government under the Emerging Energy program.
The NSW government has sought to fast-track a number of major infrastructure projects that will help provide an economic stimulus to the state and has similarly fast-tracked the approval process for the Snowy Hydro 2.0 project.
The Critical State Significant Infrastructure designation will cover both the establishment of the pump-hydro scheme, as well as the construction of new transmission network infrastructure linking the project with the National Energy Market.
As part of the New England renewable energy zone, the Oven Mountain pumped hydro project would help support up to 8,000MW of new clean energy capacity, including wind and solar projects, that the NSW government is aiming to attract to the region.
NSW water minister Melinda Pavey said that the construction of new reservoirs in the New England region would help establish the pumped hydro project, while also providing supplies of water for use in emergency situations, including bushfires and as a key water security measure.
“The project will include the construction of two reservoirs, tunnels and a new underground power station, creating jobs and critical water infrastructure with the potential to operate as a water source for firefighting and water security for Kempsey,” Pavey said.
“The infrastructure will enable water from the lower reservoir to be pumped into the upper reservoir using excess power from other renewable energy projects. It is then released to generate up to 600MW of hydro power during periods of peak demand.”
The Oven Mountain pumped hydro storage project will now need to submit an Environmental Impact Statement to the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, which will make a final planning decision after a period of public consultation.
Local member for the Northern Tablelands, Adam Marshall, welcomed the additional investment in clean energy infrastructure in the New England region, which already hosts the Sapphire and White Rock wind farms, and is set to become host to the massive 700MW New England solar farm.
“Oven Mountain could inject more than $1 billion of investment into our region and create up to 600 new local jobs during construction alone,” Marshall said. “This project is the jewel in our region’s renewable energy crown and cements the New England as the renewable energy powerhouse of Australia.”
“We’re already home to the two largest wind farms in NSW and the largest solar farm in Australia is about to start construction, so this project is the cherry on top of us.”