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Pumped hydro in Australia is plagued by failure and controversy

Updated: May 8, 2023

Pumped hydroelectricity is often considered a promising form of renewable energy. However, in Australia, it has been plagued by controversy and failure, with negative impacts on the environment, communities, and the economy.


Pumped hydroelectricity involves pumping water uphill during times of low electricity demand and releasing it downhill through turbines during times of high demand, generating electricity. The Australian government has touted it as a solution to the country's energy needs, with several large-scale projects planned or under construction. However, the reality has been far from smooth.


One of the main issues with pumped hydro in Australia is its negative impact on the environment. The construction of pumped hydro projects often involves flooding large areas of land, which can have devastating effects on ecosystems and wildlife.

The proposed Kidston pumped hydro project in Queensland would flood 1,200 hectares of land, including critical habitat for endangered species such as the yellow chat and the squatter pigeon.

The project has faced significant opposition from environmental groups, who argue that the environmental costs outweigh the potential benefits of the project.


In addition to its environmental impact, pumped hydro has also had negative effects on local communities. Many of the proposed projects are located in rural areas, where residents are concerned about the impact on their way of life. For example, the Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro project in New South Wales has faced criticism from local farmers, who are worried about the impact on their land and water resources. There are also concerns about the impact on indigenous communities, who may have cultural or spiritual connections to the land affected by the projects.


Furthermore, the cost of pumped hydro projects in Australia has been a major source of controversy.

The Snowy 2.0 project, was initially estimated to cost $2 billion but has since ballooned to $5.1 billion, making it one of the most expensive energy projects in Australian history.

The cost blowouts have been attributed to a range of factors, including design changes, construction delays, and unforeseen technical issues.


Construction issues have also plagued many of the pumped hydro projects in Australia. The Kidston project, for example, has faced delays due to construction issues, and there are concerns that the project may not be completed on schedule. The Snowy 2.0 project has also faced technical challenges, including concerns about the stability of the tunnels that will house the turbines.


Finally, the poor performance of some pumped hydro projects in Australia has also been a cause for concern.

The Tumut 3 pumped hydro project, part of the Snowy Mountains Scheme, has been plagued by technical problems and has not operated at full capacity for several years.

This has led to questions about the reliability and efficiency of pumped hydro as a form of renewable energy.


In conclusion, pumped hydro in Australia has been plagued by controversy and failure, with negative impacts on the environment, communities, and the economy. While it has the potential to provide renewable energy, is it really worth the risk? And are there better alternatives out there?


References



"How Hydropower Dams Impact the Communities They're Built In" from Global Change, March 3, 2022. https://globalchange.msu.edu


"Environmental Impacts of Hydroelectric Power" from Union of Concerned Scientists, March 5, 2013. https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/environmental-impacts-hydroelectric-power


"Social Impacts and Social Risks in Hydropower Programs" from United Nations, date unknown. https://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/sdissues/energy/op/hydro_cernea_social%20impacts_backgroundpaper.pdf


"New DOE report on environmental effects of pumped storage" from Hydro Review, April 28, 2020. https://www.hydroreview.com/hydro-industry-news/new-doe-report-on-environmental-effects-of-pumped-storage-hydropower/


"Why Some Environmental Advocates Oppose Pumped Hydropower Storage" from Sightline Institute, December 21, 2020. https://www.sightline.org/2020/12/21/why-some-environmental-advocates-oppose-pumped-hydropower-storage-project/

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