Experts call for independent scrutiny of Snowy 2.0

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30 Australian energy, engineering, economic and environmental experts have jointly called on the Prime Minister and NSW Premier to delay final approval of the Snowy 2.0 pumped storage project pending an independent review into its environmental impact on the Kosciuszko National Park. 

Some notable group (the Group) members include Steve Blume, President of the Smart Energy Council and Director of the Australian Institute of Energy, Dan Cass, Energy Policy and Regulatory Lead at the Australia Institute, John Harris from the UNSW Centre for Ecosystem Science, and Ted Woodley, former Managing Director of Energy Australia. 

The Group, corralled by the National Parks Association of NSW, published an Open Letter in which they wrote: “It is now evident that Snowy 2.0 will cost many times its initial estimate, not deliver its claimed benefits and permanently damage Kosciuszko National Park to an unprecedented extent.” 

“Snowy 2.0 is not as it has been publicly portrayed,” the Open Letter continued. “There are many alternatives that are more efficient, cheaper, quicker to construct, and incur less (sic) emissions and environmental impacts.” 

Despite the obvious lack of grammar experts in the Group, they have some points. For instance, despite the massive project being the brainchild of a Commonwealth Government Corporation, it has not been subjected to any independent scrutiny. Nor, claims the Group, has Snowy Hydro complied with the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000, requiring an analysis of feasible alternatives. And, in fact, Snowy Hydro has had to apply for an exemption from the NSW Biosecurity Act to circumvent such illegal actions as the transfer of pest fish, diseases and weeds around the Snowy Scheme and downstream rivers, affecting the marine environment of the snowy region. 

The Group claims that around 40% of Snowy 2.0’s remote source energy will be lost before it even gets to the consumer. This is due to the unprecedented distance between Snowy’s reservoirs (27km) and its remoteness from load centres and generators. The Group claims other options such as batteries connected to rooftop solar panels would be far more economical. 

The Group also claims the huge transmission works required to connect Snowy to the grid are over-the-top and that a major energy storage system must be closer to Sydney and Melbourne. This claim is hard to back-up considering enormous transmission upgrades are widely considered necessary if the NEM is to move into the clean energy 21st Century. Also, there is much to say for the case of distributed energy and energy storage, which does not require load centre proximity, indeed, its inherent stability is built of not having vulnerable centrality. 

The Group points out the rather serious cost explosion of the project too. Originally estimated to cost the taxpayer $2 billion, a $5.1 billion contract has just been awarded for a mere part of it. At this rate it will function as a tourist attraction before it functions to its purpose; people will flock to see the eternal construction works like Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia.  

Other concerns of the Group include: 

  • It will store electricity from coal-fired power stations, not renewable generators, well into the 2030’s.
  • It will lead to more, not less, greenhouse gas emissions. Over 50 million tonnes of CO2 will be released during construction and the first decade of operations. 
  • It will go largely unused until 2030. The Group looks to AEMO’s recent projections to substantiate this. 
  • It will increase rather than decrease electricity pricing, which the Group says is shown in Snowy’s own modelling. 
  • Will cost more than its market benefit. 
  • Extensive damage to Kosciuszko National Park. 

According to The Guardian, a spokesman from Snowy Hydro said an environmental impact statement was being considered by the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, and added that only 0.01% of the national park would be permanently affected by the project.

There is another concern overlooked by the Group in their Open Letter, which is that Snowy Hydro will become too big to govern, that it will gain too great a grip upon the energy market. Ross Garnaut has even suggested cutting Snowy Hydro in two (Superpower, Ross Garnaut). 

The Group asks that an independent review be conducted by the Productivity Commission, Infrastructure Australia, the chief federal scientist, Alan Finkel, or the NSW chief scientist and engineer, Prof Hugh Durrant-Whyte. 

The Government says it will reply in kind, which is to say, by letter.