DRAFT- Oven Mountain Pumped Hydro meeting report for SOMR Committee

In Summary: The short one.

From the day:

  1. This ‘Event’ was initially a political grandstanding and a typical ‘nation building’ agenda. – Complete ABC ‘Utopia’!
  2. Later in the day; SOMR had many concerns heard, if not listened to, by the Proponents, some politicians and ARC. I believe communication and the start of ‘trust’ has been established with OMPH PL.  Politicians are still ‘out-there’ spinning.
  3. The project has a long way to go to even have a real economic feasibility assessment by the Proponents and feel it is unlikely they will even request a Secretary’s Environmental Assessment Requirements (SEARs) before preparing a positive feasibility costing for their financial backers: China based Alinta Energy and EY.

The long one:

Heading upriver to Georges Junction on Monday 12th October, were the Chairperson of Thunggutti Local Aboriginal Land Council (LALC), 2 community representatives, Arthur Bain, as CEO of Thunggutti LALC, and myself, Rupert, representing SOMR.

That morning ABC local radio aired Melinda Pavey, Matthew Kean and a representative from the Clean Energy Council releasing statements/news that the Project was going ahead, fast-tracked as critical state significant nation building infrastructure etc… with all the positive ‘spin’ they could muster.

Arriving not long after the speeches commenced; we were greeted by Jeremy Moon and Anthony Melov from OMPH Pty ltd. in attendance were representatives from Armidale Regional Council (ARC), Marquees with food and beverages, TV cameras and the above politicians, with staffers from Sydney, relaying the same radio ‘spin’ almost verbatim for the cameras. – My personal thoughts were, that this a filming for a new program of the ABC’s ‘Utopia’, not needing any retakes or editing!  Thankfully, that was quickly over.

Notably; the downstream Kempsey Shire Council appeared absent.

Enjoying the sunshine with a slight breeze and the amazing scenery the stage was set for a welcome to country, relay of the importance of this country and its ‘sites’ with meaningful connection to the Thungutti and a smoking ceremony. The emotion was felt by all.

This set the scene for closer networking and discussions about what was really being proposed, the stage the project is up to, where to from here and some of SOMR’s issues of concern.

  • The Project is not yet even in the Planning Approval process! The Secretary’s Environmental Assessment Requirements (SEARSs) are yet to be requested and issued.
  • The Minister for Environment, Matt Kean advised that the Planning processes would be ‘fast tracked’ as State Significant Critical Infrastructure; confirming (in both formal and informal discussions) that this means; ‘The process will be thorough, but placed on top of the pile as a priority’ for attention.
  • Rupert requested and was assured by OMPH PL, Matt Keane and as a back-up ARC that SOMR would be consulted when the SEARs were being and/or were drafted. (I believe this makes sense to the Proponents and the Govt. as not to would delay the project time-frame! – Should it go ahead.)
  • OMPH PL have prepared some Concept designs, which were tabled at the meeting. These are still a works in progress and indicative only and will change as various issues and design criteria are evaluated. For example, they don’t even know how the sites, top & bottom, are to be accessed for both roading and transmission lines.
  • OMPH are currently investigating the geology and groundwater, through bores. They were interested to hear of the potential for Antimony and Arsenic etc in varying levels naturally in the escarpment’s geology. Rupert advised that would be one item SOMR would be looking to see included in the SEARS and following Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).  If present; this would be a concern for use of excavated material for dam wall construction and roading; requiring significant mitigation works.
  • Until SOMR knows where and what type and then construction method of bridges over the Macleay are being considered, significant comment is premature. But crossings and roading close to a highly fluctuating river with a large catchment are a major concern for SOMR; and no doubt the Proponent!  It was relayed that SOMR would want this thoroughly addressed.
  • OMPH seemed not fully aware of the plume of As & Sb coming down from Bakers Creek/Hillgrove, or Red River Resources proposals for reprocessing and remediation of the historic waste piles. Being downstream this would have a significant bearing on their works in the Macleay’s Active Flood and Riparian Zones for their pump-in and top-up works.
  • It was stated, mainly by Melinda Pavey, that ‘… Release of (3-6 gl) stored water could assist Kempsey Shire in water security during severe droughts.’  I was asked my opinion of this by the ABC and stated that; ‘If the drought was that significant, there would be many large pools to fill before it got to even Bellbrook!’ which is 100km down-stream. (My take: Common sense is not common, even in a water Minister!) And secondly, not said, why would OMPH, a commercial business, or the Govt, do that to release power generation capacity?

In Conclusion:

I personally believe the project; once transmission lines and roading etc. are factored into the costs, it will be very close to economically unfeasible and may go the way of previous Pumped Hydro proposals in the Macleay. – Canned! 

That is; unless NSW or Federal Govt put more money into the venture: to prove a point?… Watch this space!

Community Feedback Form – follow this link

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1jDyQAztWgegPNckshUOqCyqhRP70pb8Q/view?usp=sharing

Rupert Milne Home

Secretary Save Our Macleay River Inc Assn

SOMR Activities Update June 2020

Covid 19 impacts

Restrictions due to the Covid 19 pandemic have meant that some of the committee have been meeting online (using Zoom) as well as face to face. This has thrown up some challenges, but also some opportunities to increase engagement. At the AGM (Sat Aug 8 th ) there will be a proposal to change our constitution to allow electronic participation in meetings to meet the requirements of forming a quorum and enable electronic voting.

● OMPH have had contact with a Local Residents Group (Lower Creek) and the Thungutti Local Aboriginal Land Council – these have been initial contacts and are not “consultation”. They have offered, as is standard practice, to fund any cultural site investigations.

● Armidale Regional Council has recognised SOMR as a key stakeholder and will ensure we are informed of developments. They will also keep Kempsey Shire Council , who are unaware of the proposal, in the loop.

● Communications with UNE and SCU have informed us that neither has been engaged to do any Environmental Impact Studies, the scientists cannot give advice on the project without more information.

● Jeremy Moon from OMPH has responded to SOMR’s communication – describing his commitment to stabilising the grid for the effective use of renewables, he clarified that there will be no renewable energy directly associated with the project. He is to be invited (via Zoom) to do a meet and greet with SOMR on 8 th August – it is to be made extremely clear that this is an introduction not a “community consultation”.

● Summary sent to Greens MP’s , with a request to use question time to highlight this issue – no response.

Some background https://www.afr.com/companies/energy/alinta-yet-to-comply-with-firb- sale-conditions-20200515-p54tdy

Water Testing

● Thanks to the many people who have contributed to the purchase of the water testing kit

●The following have been identified as priorities for collecting base line data

  • The Mungay and Deep Creek areas downstream from the old antimony mine,
  • The Gravel Extraction areas at Moonebah
  • Hickeys Creek below the proposed market garden and
  • Comara – as a lower priority.

The tests are to be in separate seasons to obtain results from different temperatures and environmental conditions.

Willawarrin Market Garden

● An updated Submission of Objection to the Development Application was forwarded to KSC on 10th June. Concerns include :

  • spray drift impacting on Willawarrin Primary School, Hickeys Creek and residents.
  • Run off from chemical fertilisers
  • Logging in the Macleay Catchment

Logging in the Macleay Catchment

● Compartments 540, 541, 542 and 552, which we visited a year ago, are nearing completion.

● Boots on the ground visits have not happened due to Covid 19 restrictions – now to be renegotiated

● Thungutti LALC to be engaged to make representations on halting logging as is being done by the Gumbaynggirr people who have brought legal challenge in Nambucca.

Riverside Gravel Extraction

● SOMR is assisting residents regarding their concerns regarding operator’s failure to comply with several Conditions of Approval.

Southern Cross Uni

● Ongoing data collection by SOMR since 2016 has provided unique data post bushfires on the condition of the Macleay River

● Following graphs show suspended sediment levels – with Rupert’s explanatory notes.

“Is pumped Hydro OK on the Macleay?”

https://www.ompshydro.com/

29th April 2020

Early in February 2020, SOMR sent a letter with questions about various issues affecting the Macleay River to the Oxley MP and Minister for Water Melinda Pavey. One of the questions was: “Are you supporting/planning pumped hydro developments? If so, are locations identified?

In her response of 19th March 2020, the Minister wrote “I have not received any formal briefing about pumped hydro developments for the Macleay River”.

Only days after receiving the Minister’s response, the SOMR committee became aware of the proposed ‘Oven Mountain Pumped Hydro Storage’ (OMPHS) project, located within the Macleay catchment and it has already received substantial government funding. The Minister’s response was either incorrect or ill-informed.

To gain more detail of the Proposal, SOMR is currently contacting the proponents of the project, Armidale Regional Council, Kempsey Shire Council and offices of the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DoPIE) and research scientists. We await responses.

Project History.

A pumped hydro electricity generator in the Upper Macleay was first proposed about 20 years ago. The location at Oven Mountain on the Carrai Plateau seemed suitable,
however Lend-Lease took out an option on the scheme and conducted their own extensive surveys and feasibility studies to then abandon it as holistically unviable.

The current Oven Mountain Pumped Hydro Storage (OMPHS) project is proposed by Oven Mountain Pty Ltd, partnered with Hong Kong based company Alinta Energy (AE) and ‘supported’ by consultants Lloyd’s Register, Snowy Mountain Electricity Commission (SMEC) (now Snowy Hydro Limited) and Ernst & Young (EY) economic consultants.

The Proposal.

The Oven Mountain development proposes, one upper-level storage dam on the Carrai Plateau and a lower-level storage dam near the Macleay River, with an approximate height difference of 600m. The two dams are to be linked by a tunnel with a turbine close to the lower dam. In periods of peak electricity demand, water is released at the top, to drive the turbines and generate electricity. In periods of low demand water from the lower dam is to be pumped back up to the upper level dam using wind and solar power. This means the water is circulated in a closed loop system and only needs low volume pumping from the Macleay River to top-up the system losses when available.

The proposal is for the upper dam to act as a battery for the turbines to generate 600MW or 7200 MW hours of power.

Image from: https://arena.gov.au/blog/what-is-pumped-hydro-and-how-does-it-work/

Government funding.

A $2.2 million study as to how the proposed project could support the network was contributed to by two Government funding grants:

  1. In 2017, NSW Government’s Emerging Energy Program granted pre-investment studies funding. (SOMR is researching the amount) and
  2. In April 2020, the Federal Government’s Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) granted just under $1.0 million for the project.

Government Policy.

In 2018, The NSW Government’s Energy NSW and the Australian National University (ANU), investigated the potential for further pumped hydro developments, and prepared the Pumped Hydro Roadmap, which identifies and maps opportunities for pumped hydro across NSW, including on the North Coast. – Link to the Pumped Hydro Roadmap: https://energy.nsw.gov.au/renewables/clean-energy-initiatives/hydro-energy-and-storage

This document relays that:

  • The ‘North East’, this escarpment area, has the highest potential for Pumped Hydro in NSW through ANU’s assessment of topography, climate, rainfall, water availability and transmission capacity.
  •  The NSW Government invites private development proposals of pumped hydro and
  • The NSW Government will, with some conditions, process the Applications as State Significant Developments or State Significant Infrastructure, i.e. assessed and approved by The Minister for Planning.

Concerns and questions arising:

While SOMR appreciates investment in the renewable energy sector, we have significant concerns and questions about; foreign ownership, the remote geographical and geological location, with the potential environmental impact on the Macleay River from the project and related infrastructure construction and operation.

Concerns:

  • The site is adjacent to a National Park and in the vicinity of wilderness areas with World Heritage listed Gondwana Forests not too far away.
  • Construction and maintenance of transmission lines connecting the project to the grid most likely would traverse this wilderness area and National Parks.
  • The impact of earthworks on steep, remote and relatively pristine landscape and with the potential for release of Antimony and Arsenic from the substrate.
  •  How much and how often would water from the Macleay River be needed to top up the ‘closed-water’ system.
  • Road access for construction and operation will need to follow and cross/bridge the Macleay River above Georges Creek Junction in remote ‘gorge’ country.
  • Whether the environmental impacts of construction for a 50year design-life would be less, or more, than mining for metals and manufacture of batteries with 15year design-life and recycling opportunities.
  •  The net energy gain from new pumped hydro developments has been questioned by experts for other pumped hydro projects in other areas of NSW. Questions:
  • The proponents state that the energy needed for pumping the water to the upper reservoir will come from solar and wind power – when available. Does that mean it would be from the grid?
  •  The project is located on private land with overseas proponents and Australian Government funding. What is the scope of the private/public relationship of the project?
  •  What is Planning Stage for this Proposal and under what part of the EPA Act the Application will be lodged?
  •  What safeguards for rehabilitation after the ‘life of the project’ are to be included in the Approval Conditions if Approved? SOMR is researching further details on the development and, as mentioned above, seeking information from the Proponent, all levels of Government, scientists and stakeholders. Information and comments from SOMR members and readers of this summary are welcome. Links to further information:

https://www.ompshydro.com/ https://arena.gov.au/blog/oven-mountain-pumped-hydro-planned-for-future-renewable- energy-zone/

https://arena.gov.au/projects/omps-new-england-phes-benefits-study/

https://energy.nsw.gov.au/renewables/clean-energy-initiatives/hydro-energy-and-storage