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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?

“Is pumped Hydro OK on the Macleay?”

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:

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:

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.


  • 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: energy-zone/