The Federal Government has announced a dramatic expansion to the Snowy Hydro Scheme, increasing the scheme's ability to provide energy storage.
The Federal Government has announced a dramatic expansion to the Snowy Hydro Scheme, increasing the scheme's ability to provide energy storage. Image Credit: RenewReporter

RenewReporter will be running our first live blog throughout today as we try to keep up with developments and announcements on the Snowy Hydro expansion plans and escalations in the heated debate around Australia’s energy policy.

Michael Mazengarb March 16, 201712:05 pm

Snowy Hydro 2.0

This morning, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull flagged indicated an imminent announcement on a dramatic expansion to the Snowy Hydro scheme. Details are currently scarce, and a detailed announcement is expected later today.

The details known so far include plans for a $2 billion investment in expanding the capacity of the existing scheme, through the building of new generation infrastructure and water transport tunnels. The aim would be to increase the ability of the scheme to provide pumped hydro energy storage.

The New South Wales and Victorian Governments may be asked to contribute to the investment, as co-owners of the scheme with the Commonwealth Government, but such arrangements are yet to be negotiated.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has been involved in briefing the Prime Minister about the potential for pumped hydro energy storage to provide much needed back up generation capacity, and it is likely that ARENA may be involved in funding the Snowy hydro expansion.

Michael Mazengarb March 16, 201712:21 pm

The Clean Energy Council has welcomed the Snowy Hydro announcement, saying that the successful completion of the Snowy Hydro expansion would provide greater potential for renewable energy to provide a greater share of Australia’s energy supply.

Hydro power has a long and impressive history of delivering energy to Australians and meeting peak demand, currently delivering about 7 per cent of Australia’s power each year and acting as the dominant form of energy storage here and across the world. Pumped hydro is a perfect complement to renewable energy like wind and
solar and other forms of storage that are becoming much cheaper with each passing year.

– Clean Energy Council Chief Executive Kane Thornton.

Michael Mazengarb March 16, 201712:31 pm

Friends of the Earth has released a statement also welcoming the investment from the Federal Government into renewable energy and energy storage, but has highlighted that the Governments market intervention is evidence that the market is failing.

“Private companies alone won’t invest in energy storage because it undermines their ability to fleece householders with inflated prices,” said Leigh Ewbank, Friends of the Earth’s Act on Climate coordinator.

“It’s time for state and federal governments to bring the market into the 21st Century – updating the National Electricity Objective to address climate change would be a start.”
– Leigh Ewbank, Friends of the Earth’s Act on Climate coordinator.

Michael Mazengarb March 16, 201712:41 pm

Meanwhile, the South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill and Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg have participated in an awkwardly timed joint press conference where exchanges escalated very quickly.

“This is the most anti-South Australian Government we have seen from a Commonwealth Government in living memory” – Jay Weatherill

Check out the video via ABC News 24.

Michael Mazengarb March 16, 201712:49 pm

For what it’s worth, the Jay Weatherill and Josh Frydenberg joined together for the launch of AGL’s Virtual Power Plant project.

The announcement of AGL’s project has clearly been overshadowed by the heated exchange between Weatherill and Frydenberg, but is an interesting initiative nonetheless.

The Virtual Power Plant project will aggregate control of battery systems installed throughout Adelaide, such that hundreds of small batteries can act together as through they were one large battery. The project is receiving up to $5 million in funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency

“Our South Australian VPP demonstration is a practical example of the new energy future. We’re excited Australia’s largest operating residential VPP is ‘now live’ and the sixty plus batteries in homes across Adelaide are now linked by the smart software in our partner, Sunverge’s, cloud-based platform.”
– AGL Managing Director & CEO Andy Vesey

Michael Mazengarb March 16, 201712:56 pm

Snowy Hydro has released a statement on the expansion plans, saying that the investment could provide an additional 2,000 Megawatts of new renewable energy generation capacity and allow the scheme to fill a role in providing rapid response backup capacity for the electricity grid.

“From our earliest days, Snowy Hydro has been moving water to support the irrigators in the food bowl of Australia and generating electricity during peak demands to keep the lights on in the NEM,”

“The creators of the Scheme foresaw a time when its capabilities may need to be expanded and, as a result, there are very real options in-built in the Scheme’s design to extract more value to the community.”

– Snowy Hydro Managing Director and CEO Paul Board.

Michael Mazengarb March 16, 201712:59 pm

Snowy Hydro has released a statement on the expansion plans, saying that the investment could provide an additional 2,000 Megawatts of new renewable energy generation capacity and allow the scheme to fill a role in providing rapid response backup capacity for the electricity grid.

“From our earliest days, Snowy Hydro has been moving water to support the irrigators in the food bowl of Australia and generating electricity during peak demands to keep the lights on in the NEM,”

“The creators of the Scheme foresaw a time when its capabilities may need to be expanded and, as a result, there are very real options in-built in the Scheme’s design to extract more value to the community.”

– Snowy Hydro Managing Director and CEO Paul Board.

Michael Mazengarb March 16, 20171:10 pm

The statement from Snowy Hydro confirms that the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) may provide a grant to fund the completion of a feasibility study into the Snowy scheme expansion proposal. The grant would provide $500,000 in funding to examine “the physical, technical and environmental requirements for expansion of pumped hydro at sites across the Scheme”.

It provides an interesting insight into exactly where the proposal is at in terms of development. The expansion of the Snowy scheme is by now means a done deal and is clearly subject to the outcomes of the ARENA supported feasibility study.

Michael Mazengarb March 16, 20171:24 pm

Leader of the opposition Bill Shorten doesn’t seem too fussed.

Michael Mazengarb March 16, 20171:40 pm

For background, the angst exhibited between Jay Weatherill and Josh Frydenberg flows from the SA Premier’s announcement of a $550 million investment package targeted at securing the supply of electricity in the Southern state.

The SA Energy Minister, Tom Koutsantonis, cited a failure by the Federal Government in acting to fix a broken energy market as justification for why the state needed to make such a significant intervention into the energy market.

“So far this year, we have seen frequent price spikes and supply shortfalls across the nation, but the Federal Government has refused to act.” – Minister Koutsantonis said.

Our write up of that plan can be found here: The Six Pillars of South Australia’s $550 million energy security plan

Michael Mazengarb March 16, 20172:01 pm

Shadow Minister Climate Change and Energy Mark Butler has chimed into today’s developments with his own statement pointing to Snowy Hydro’s plans for a feasibility study as an indication of the substance of this morning’s announcement from the Prime Minister.

After the Prime Minister’s office briefed journalists that the project involved a commitment of $1.5 billion – $2 billion to add 2000 MW of new generation capacity, Snowy Hydro itself has now confirmed the commitment from the Government is actually $500,000 for a feasibility study “which could support” the possibility of up to 2,000 MW of new storage, not new generation.

– Statement from Shadow Energy Minister Mark Butler.

Michael Mazengarb March 16, 20172:18 pm

Mark Butler has pointed out at the Snowy Hydro expansion proposal didn’t exactly get a strong endorsement from the Government’s favoured energy economist Danny Price of Frontier Economics.

Speaking to Fran Kelly on ABC’s Radio National this morning, Mr Price described the proposal, and the concept of pumped hydro energy storage as a “thought bubble”.

“I would describe it as a thought bubble, it will be years before anything happens”

“This is not a quick fix, this is a much longer term plan, people should not get carried away because … it’s a complicated system (and) a long way off’.”

– Danny Price

Michael Mazengarb March 16, 20173:14 pm

Adding an extra layer to what has already been a heated day of energy debates, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation has extended an offer of help to the South Australian Government in providing finance to support the establishment of Australia’s largest battery storage project in the state.

Despite the Federal energy minister almost going toe-to-toe with the South Australian Premier, the Federal will potentially become a major investor in South Australia’s energy plan.

Read our report here: South Australia’s battery projects to get CEFC backing

Michael Mazengarb March 16, 20173:26 pm

The internet of course has been awash with Frydenberg-Simon and Garfunkel mash-ups today.

Michael Mazengarb March 16, 20174:02 pm

Australian National University academic, Professor Andrew Blakers, who has spearheaded a strong push towards pumped-hydro energy storage has released comment via a statement issued by the university.

“Pumped hydro energy storage (PHES) is the 97 per cent worldwide market leader in
energy storage because it is much cheaper than alternatives. The announcement
of increased PHES in the Snowy Mountains is welcome.


“Deployment of wind, solar photovoltaics (PV), pumped hydro energy storage and
increased high voltage (HV) interconnectors between the states allows the
National Electricity Market to reach 100 per cent renewable electricity with
high reliability and at zero net cost. Wind and PV will replace retiring coal
and gas plant at lower cost than the alternative replacement (new coal and
gas).

– Professor Andrew Blakers

Professor Blakers recently won funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency towards the completion of an atlas of pumped-hydro energy storage sites.

Michael Mazengarb March 16, 20174:21 pm

Director the Australian National University’s Energy Change Institute, Professor Ken Baldwin, has also welcomed today’s announcement of a revitalised Snowy Hydro Scheme, however, has empathised that the investment needs to be made in conjunction with an overarching plan for energy in Australia.

“The announcement of a revitalised Snowy Hydro scheme for energy storage is welcome, and comes hard on the heels of the South Australian Government’s recent energy initiative that also incorporates storage. However, what is urgently needed is a national energy plan for these initiatives to plug into.”

“The energy sector has been paralysed by a decade of government policy uncertainty, and is now creaking under the strain as technological advances overwhelm it. The Chief Scientist Alan Finkel has been given the task of reviewing the National Electricity Market, and will soon be handing down his report, following which a serious national discussion needs to take place.”

– Professor Ken Baldwin, ANU Energy Change Institute.

Michael Mazengarb March 16, 20175:05 pm

We’re going to call that a wrap! What a day.

In summary:

– The Federal Government has announced a $2 billion proposal to expand the Snowy Hydro Scheme
– SA Premier Jay Weatherill has blasted Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg at an unplanned joint press conference in Adelaide, at the launch of AGL’s Virtual Power Plant Project
– The Clean Energy Finance Corporation has announced it will offer finance to projects selected under the South Australian large-scale battery initiative
– The reactions to the Snowy Hydro scheme have been mixed, with general consensus being that it doesn’t take the place of the wider need for a national energy plan.

Michael Mazengarb March 16, 20175:05 pm
We’ll leave you with today’s top tweet.

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