The federal government’s flagship energy storage project, the Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro expansion project, has received planning approval from the NSW state government, despite ongoing objections over the project’s environmental impacts.
The approval for the $5 billion (and counting) Snowy 2.0 project was announced on Thursday by NSW deputy premier John Barilaro, the member for Monaro, where the project is located, and a would be candidate for the federal seat of Eden Monaro, which just happens to soon be subject of a crucial by-election.
“Snowy Hydro is an icon of our community, with Snowy 2.0 already employing about 500 people, directly injecting more than $35 million into the Snowy Mountains and involving more than 100 local businesses,” Barilaro said in a statement.
“This latest approval will see the creation of an extra 2,000 jobs during the construction phase, unlock billions of investment in regional NSW and allow the next stage of construction to further progress this legacy project.”
The Snowy 2.0 project had been earmarked for a fast-tracked planning assessment by the NSW government as part of a package of major infrastructure projects identified to stimulate investment during a challenging Covid-19 impacted economy.
With this planning sign off, the Snowy 2.0 project will now be considered by the Federal government, which is the sole owner of the Snowy Hydro scheme, for final approval.
The Snowy 2.0 project will see the Tantangara and Talbingo reservoirs linked by 27km of new tunnels, along with a new 2,000MW power station that will sit around 800 metres underground and combined would deliver up to 350 gigawatt-hours of energy storage.
The approval, which will generate at least $4.6 billion in new infrastructure investment to the Monaro region along with 2,000 construction jobs, comes ahead of an anticipated by-election for the federal seat of Eden-Monaro, a date for which has not yet been set. The Liberal-National coalition will be hoping to snatch the seat left vacant by retiring Labor MP Mike Kelly.
The price of the project, however, does not include necessary investments in new transmission network infrastructure, with some estimates placing the total cost of the scheme at as much as $10 billion.
NSW planning minister Rob Stokes said that a condition of the planning approval would require Snowy Hydro to invest almost $100 million in “biodiversity and environmental offsets” to account for potential impacts on the Kosciuszko National Park.
Snowy Hydro will be required to invest $5 million to develop a captive breeding program to support populations of the Stocky Galaxias and the Macquarie Perch, two threatened fish species from the Kosciuszko region, as well as installing fish-screens to prevent the movement of pests throughout the Snowy scheme.
The company will also be required to restore native vegetation and habitats disturbed by the project’s construction.
Planning approval for the Snowy 2.0 project follows an earlier approval granted for the construction of a tunnel segment factory, to be established in the town of Cooma, that will supply more than 130,000 concrete segments to line the tunnels of the Snowy 2.0 development.
“In March we approved the Snowy 2.0 Segment Factory, and this month we have approved the Snowy 2.0 Main Works, enabling the creation of new jobs and the flow of substantial investment into our State,” Mr Stokes said.
“The projects approval also requires Snowy Hydro to invest almost $100 million for biodiversity and environmental offsets to protect threatened species and deliver long-term conservation and recreational benefits for the Kosciuszko National Park.”
Snowy Hydro CEO Paul Broad welcomed the announcement, saying that the project will now proceed and was confident that the company would be able to manage the potential environmental impacts of the project, that will involve the establishment of new tunnels, and the addition of 2,000MW of generation capacity to the Snowy Hydro scheme.
“Snowy Hydro has been operating responsibly in Kosciuszko National Park for almost 70 years,” Broad said.
“For a small and temporary construction footprint covering just 0.10% of the park, we will deliver 2,000MW of large-scale energy storage to support many other wind and solar projects coming online.”
The Snowy 2.0 expansion has faced fierce opposition from environmental groups and a range of energy industry experts, who have argued that the Kosciuszko National Park is the wrong place to commence a pumped hydro energy storage project, as the anticipated impact on the national park would be unacceptable, and there were much better alternative sites.
“Approving a massive industrial construction in Kosciuszko National Park sets appalling environmental and legal precedents and reduces Australia from an international leader in national park management to the bottom of the pack,” executive officer of the National Parks Association Gary Dunnett said.
“The approval flies in the face of the fundamental principles of environmental planning, particularly the need to consider feasible alternatives and assess the cumulative impacts of all stages of a development. This approval has been issued before the EIS for the transmission lines that will be bulldozed through the Park has even been exhibited.”
“The NSW Government has ignored the expert’s advice and urging for an independent review of Snowy Hydro’s misleading claims for the project. Today’s decision will go down in history as an appalling assault on one of Australia’s most fragile and precious of natural icons, Kosciuszko National Park,” Dunnett added.
The group called for the Snowy 2.0 project to undergo an independent assessment before progressing to the next stages.
The Snowy 2.0 project was the brainchild of former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who described the project as “the single most important and enduring decision of the many I made on energy”.
RenewEconomy and its sister sites One Step Off The Grid and The Driven will continue to publish throughout the Covid-19 crisis, posting good news about technology and project development, and holding government, regulators and business to account. But as the conference market evaporates, and some advertisers pull in their budgets, readers can help by making a voluntary donation here to help ensure we can continue to offer the service free of charge and to as wide an audience as possible. Thankyou for your support.