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Oven Mountain Pumped Hydro – Public Information Forum Report

The Public Information Forum on Saturday 19 November was attended by 100 Macleay residents and three OMPHS representatives. SOMR organised this event to provide an opportunity for the proponents of the scheme to give a comprehensive presentation of the plans as well as for representatives of the First Nations community, environmentalists and local residents to ask questions and voice their concerns.

After the initial introduction of the program, SOMR founding member Arthur Bain, handed over to the Forum Moderator Dr Tim Cadman, Research Fellow at Griffith University and Mid North Coast resident.

First up, SOMR Secretary Rupert Milne Home explained the planning process.

The Forum was timely, because the planning process for the project is at a significant stage with the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and the Development Application (DA) to be finalised and lodged with Department of Planning and Environment (DPIE) soon.

OMPHS representative Patricio Munoz explained that, while they intend to lodge the documents by the end of the year, they do not expect the public exhibition by the DPIE before February 2023. These documents will consist of several hundred pages with the public given the required 28 days to comment and write submissions.

Patricio then gave an overview of the project using some of the maps and illustrations which can be found on their website He emphasized that the Macleay River will not be dammed and that ‘fast tracking’ the project does not mean that there will be short cuts in the planning process.

The OMPHS representatives had to leave after their presentation with very little time to answer questions at the meeting. Therefore, questions were later taken from the floor to be sent to OMPHS. (See below)

The speakers for the Dunghutti Nation, Warren Roberts and Clarrie Hoskins, as well as members of the audience stated repeatedly that the consultation with the First Nation community so far is unsatisfactory as is the research into the impact on culture and country. In the words of Warren Roberts: “The consultative process is no way sufficient for us to come on board”.

Addressing one of SOMR’s main concerns, Arthur Bain presented a recently completed report by Professor Scott Johnson of Southern Cross University. Based on water samples taken in Bellbrook by Arthur on behalf of SOMR over several years, it clearly shows how the presence of antimony and arsenic levels in the river are impacted by rain and fire events. Therefore, any soil and rock disturbance during the construction and operation of the Oven Mountain Pumped Hydro project may have the potential to contaminate the Macleay River. Addressing prevention of this contamination in the planning stage is of utmost importance. (Find the presentation on One Drive!AnFAkxeTrT19qE9h0kgsafMSSVrW?e=Y60ByT )

The final speaker, ecologist Mark Graham has spent most of his life in the North Coast and Mid North Coast. He described the Macleay Valley as central to the Great Eastern Ranges, one of the richest areas of biodiversity in the world with globally significant conservation values. The valley is a vital link in the wildlife corridor extending from Gippsland to Queensland. Mark displayed a huge list of threatened species that rely on this corridor. He is concerned the pumped hydro project will cut into the corridor and weaken its critical role in the protection of biodiversity.

In conclusion, Mark pointed to alternative pumped hydro options in less vulnerable environments. One such project is being explored in abandoned coal mines in the Hunter Valley.

Overall, the forum was a good introduction to the proposed project, however many questions remain.

Here are the questions from the floor after OMPHS representatives had left the Forum. They are listed in the order of asking and will be given to OMPHS.

  1. What are the provisions for decommissioning and rehabilitation of the site at end of life; and who will pay for it?
  2. What are the statistics on evaporation during high temperatures, low flow and drought?
  3. What is needed to upgrade the existing transmission lines and who will pay for that?
  4. What will be done to manage the contamination of Antimony and Arsenic etc. (naturally) in the geology of the area?
  5. What are the Alternatives to this Project?
  6. Why cannot a large battery storage be built in Armidale (near the sub-station)?
  7. How much Pumped Hydro Storage is planned for the New England Renewable Energy Zone (REZ)? – Any other PHS projects proposed here?
  8. Will the Proponent commit to a Non-State Significant Development pathway, to allow for greater community engagement? 1.
  9. Can the Proponent guarantee no adverse impact on the Carrai water table?
  10. Where are the profits going?
  11. Why build in such a culturally significant area?
  12. Please confirm dates (and extent) of Aboriginal Community Consultation?
  13. Have OMPHS considered purchase of the Oakey River Hydro Scheme project? – If not, why not?
  14. To DPIE and Proponent: Why make staged pathway? 2
  15. Why was this site chosen, and was there any personal interest involved?

Oven Mountain Pumped Hydro Information Forum

Some facts about the project:

The Oven Mountain Pumped Hydro project (OMPS)
 * Will not dam the Macleay River
The two reservoirs to be built for the pumped hydro power generation will not be in the
riverbed. There will be a lower reservoir near the river and an upper reservoir about 600m above.
The project will purchase power from the grid to pump water from the lower reservoir to the upper in times of low demand/cost power; and release water, driving the turbines, generating electricity in high demand/cost periods. Profit will be made from the price differences.
Only the lower reservoir will initially be filled and topped up as required. The proponents say they will fill and top up the lower reservoir from the Macleay River only during times of high-water flows.

*  Will not give water security to the residents of the Kempsey Shire during
times of drought.
Oven Mountain reservoirs will not contribute to the Kempsey Shire water security.
Water released during a drought would soon be absorbed into the riverbed. It would not reach Bellbrook and therefore be of no use. It is not part of the project plan.
* Will provide employment
The proponents have estimated that there will be 600 jobs created during the construction phase and have hinted at 1,000 not 3,000 jobs as stated by our local State MP.
* Will store electricity
The current proposal for the Oven Mountain Pumped Hydro project aims to provide up to 900MW, not 600MW as originally proposed. Proponents had to resubmit their proposal to the Dept of Planning Industry & Environment (DPIE). There is no net gain in electricity generated from the project.
* Will impact on our roads
Road access for the project may be from Kempsey via Armidale Road. It appears that upgrades will initially be paid for by the NSW government.
* Will cost ratepayers & taxpayers
So far, the project has been allocated funding of approx. $12 million from the NSW and Commonwealth governments.
* Will submit EIS for community consultation before the decision of the
Minister for Planning, Environment and Industry
The proponents have engaged consultants to develop the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The document is expected to consist of several hundred pages. The Development
Application (DA) and EIS is proposed to be lodged by the end of 2022. Following the DA’s and EIS’s placement on Public Exhibition (by DPIE) the public will have 28 working days to lodge submissions.
* Will be operated by Alinta Energy
The land is owned by local family company Hoshac Pty Ltd.
The proponents are OMPS Pty Ltd who will hand the project to Alinta Energy when operational.

Picnic for Nature

On Sunday 16 October, a beautiful sunny day, SOMR organised a Picnic for Nature at the Gladstone Market. It was part of a statewide initiative by the Nature Conservation Council with a focus on networking and education.

The SOMR stall was decorated with numerous posters and banners pertaining to the protection of the environment. Maps and graphs on the table showed details of the proposed Oven Mountain Pumped Hydro project. Many passers engaged in conversations about their concerns in regards to the project’s impact on the Macleay River.

Several people spread their picnic blankets on the riverbank behind the stall. They took the opportunity to network while the children went back and forth between the picnic treats and the playground.