Turnbull lands deal for pumped hydro projects in Upper Hunter


New South Wales (NSW) government-owned statutory corporation WaterNSW has awarded a development contract to Upper Hunter Hydro (UHH) to investigate and design two pumped hydro projects capable of storing more than 1,300 MW for up to 10 hours.

The agreement provides UHH, owned by Turnbull family company Wilcrow Pty Ltd, with access to WaterNSW land around Glenbawn Dam, near Scone, and Glennies Creek Dam, near Singleton, for the purpose of designing pumped hydro schemes. Both dams collect water from the Hunter River.

UHH will also study an option to incorporate a wind farm into the design of the pumped hydro plants.

If the studies are successful, UHH will fund, build, operate and own the pumped hydro projects under a long-term lease agreement.

UHH Director Malcolm Turnbull, a strong advocate of the Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro project during his time as prime minister, said the planned Upper Hunter projects will be much-needed additions to Australia’s emerging suite of long-duration energy storage projects which are required to offset the retirement of coal-fired generation.

Turnbull said the projects could deliver dispatchable power with long-duration storage of more than 1,000 MW for 8-12 hours and provide the critical firming capacity required to optimise renewables.

“Wind and solar are both intermittent sources of generation and once coal fired generation is phased out, we will be left with abundant, and much cheaper, variable generation but no continuous, baseload generation,” he said.

“That’s why long-duration energy storage in the form of pumped hydro is critical to ensuring energy is affordable and reliable.”

According to current plans, the Glenbawn Pumped Hydro project will have a capacity of 770 MW with 10 hours (7,700 MWh) of storage duration. The Glennies Creek project has a capacity of 620 MW and 10 hours (6,200 MWh) duration.

UHH said both projects are located in strong areas of the National Electricity Market (NEM) and well placed to utilise the new transmission capacity being developed as part of the planned Hunter-Central Coast Renewable Energy Zone (REZ).

The projects are currently in the early conceptual design stages but UHH is seeking to have them ready for construction in approximately four years, with the projects operational in the early 2030s.

Should they proceed, UHH estimates the combined projects could potentially generate 1,400 construction jobs, and 80 ongoing operations roles.

WaterNSW Chief Executive Officer Andrew George said the projects are the latest in ongoing efforts to grow sustainability initiatives and identify renewable energy generation and storage opportunities on the corporation’s land and assets.

“We have an opportunity to not only assist the transition to a renewable energy power grid, but to also assist in the creation of jobs, support the local community, and generate revenue to put downward pressure on water costs for customers,” he said.

“We are continuing to assess sites across our portfolio to identify further opportunities.”

The UHH projects are the second projects to be announced under WaterNSW Renewable Energy and Storage Program following the announcement of ACEN Australia’s proposed Burrendong pumped hydro project in December 2022.

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