Low rain­fall a chal­lenge for hy­dro

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Clean Energy - Keith Orchi­son

AF­TER half a cen­tury as the work­horse of re­new­able en­ergy sup­ply in Aus­tralia, hy­dro- elec­tric power’s niche is un­der chal­lenge. While ac­count­ing for al­most 70 per cent of re­new­able elec­tric­ity sup­plied to Aus­tralians, hy­dro seems likely to be over­taken by 2020 as a re­sult of the Rudd Gov­ern­ment’s emis­sions trad­ing scheme and its pro­posed en­larged tar­get for clean en­ergy.

In modelling un­der­taken for the pe­tro­leum in­dus­try, economists Brian Fisher and Anna Maty­sek of Con­cept Eco­nomics es­ti­mate that the com­bined ef­fect of the two poli­cies — as well as the lim­ited avail­abil­ity of sites for the ex­pan­sion of grid- based hy­dro power — will be to push wind well into the re­new­ables lead, al­though clean en­ergy will still be pro­vid­ing only 20 per cent of to­tal na­tional power con­sump­tion.

By 2020, they say, wind en­ergy sup­ply could be more than dou­ble hy­dro out­put, de­pend­ing on how the new poli­cies are framed — car­bon con­strain­ing laws have still to be fi­nalised. And the hy­dro- elec­tric gen­er­a­tors have the im­pact of the long drought on their hands.

Even though af­ter the heavy rains of sum­mer most Aus­tralians liv­ing on the east­ern seaboard con­sider the drought over, both Hy­dro Tas­ma­nia and Snowy Hy­dro, gov­ern­ment- owned cor­po­ra­tions that pro­vide most na­tional hy­dro ca­pac­ity, are still bat­tling the ef­fects of low rain­fall.

Hy­dro Tas­ma­nia, with 27 power sta­tions us­ing wa­ter from 50 dams, says re­cent rain has had lit­tle ef­fect. Over­all stor­age stood at 18.3 per cent on April 1, the low­est for 40 years. David Mar­shall, the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s en­ergy re­sources man­ager, ac­knowl­edges that Tas­ma­nia would be ‘‘ fac­ing a par­lous sit­u­a­tion’’ if the Basslink trans­mis­sion line to Vic­to­ria had not been com­mis­sioned in 2006.

In the first nine months of this fi­nan­cial year the $ 780 mil­lion link has en­abled Hy­dro Tas­ma­nia to im­port more than 1700 gi­gawatt hours from the main­land, while ex­port­ing 215 GWh.

On the main­land, Snowy Hy­dro, which gen­er­ally pro­vides power to meet peak de­mands, said this month its stor­ages re­main around their low­est lev­els since the scheme was con­structed 50 years ago.

Mean­while, in Vic­to­ria’s Alpine re­gion 300 km from Melbourne, AGL is push­ing ahead with the largest hy­dro- elec­tric power sta­tion to be built out­side Tas­ma­nia in two decades. The $ 230 mil­lion Bo­gong plant, of ca­pac­ity 140 MW ca­pac­ity, is sched­uled to be com­mis­sioned late next year.

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