Hydro storage project pumps new life into old coal mine


The $13.04 million technical review and pilot trial to examine the feasibility of repurposing the underground mine for pumped hydro will occur at Centennial’s Newstan Colliery, Fassifern.

The 125-year old mine has been on ‘care and maintenance’ since 2014 and the trial will look to take advantage of the site’s features including an existing grid connection, proximity to major transmission lines, lower reservoir and secure water sources.

It is anticipated the existing features will lower the cost of transforming the facility for pumped hydro and if the trial is successful, it could lead to the repurposing of other retired mining sites, giving them a second life as clean and dispatchable sources of renewable energy.

The New South Wales Government will inject $4.16 million into the study as part of its $75 million Emerging Energy Program which provides funding to assist with the development of innovative, large-scale electricity and storage projects across the state.

NSW Energy and Environment Minister Matt Kean said supporting long-duration storage projects like pumped hydro is also a key part of the government’s recently announced Electricity Infrastructure Roadmap.

“Pumped hydro is not only a great source of cheap, reliable electricity, it is a huge creator of construction jobs and investment for host communities and the broader economy,” he said.

“This project could change the way we rehabilitate retired mine sites – breathing new life into existing infrastructure links and supporting existing workforces and local economies to continue their contribution to our energy mix.”

The mine site’s existing features are expected to benefit during construction.

Image: Centennial Coal

Centennial’s head of external relations, Katie Brassil, said the project is “an important and tangible step” in the evolution of the company’s business from one solely based on coal, to a diversified energy company.

“This project will explore the potential to utilise our existing assets of land, geographic proximity to infrastructure, gas and underground mining voids to provide large scale energy storage and dispatchable generation in the future,” she said.

ARENA to play a part

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) will contribute $995,000 to the project with the agency determined to build upon the current knowledge bank relating to pumped hyrdo energy storage as well as look at new approaches to assessing pumped hydro developments.

CEO Darren Miller said the repurposing of brownfield sites like coal mines represents a significant opportunity for locating pumped hydro energy storage in the future.

“Through Centennial’s study we aim to discover the factors that could lead to broad commercialisation uptake in repurposing brownfield sites and giving them a second life as energy storage facilities to support the growing share of renewable energy in our system,” he said.

Federal Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, said the trial will help determine if end-of-life coal facilities can be repurposed to continue contributing to Australia’s energy mix.

“The government is focused on getting the best energy outcomes for Australian households and businesses, and this requires new dispatchable sources of generation like gas and pumped hydro to complement intermittent renewables,” he said.

“This study will give us a better understanding of the commercial advantages that underground pumped hydro energy storage provides.

“By repurposing old sites and taking advantage of the features at those facilities, we can bring more clean energy projects online that bring down emissions and deliver the secure and reliable power Australians need.”

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