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NSW to pump up hydro power with dozens of new projects

Pumped hydro will play a key role in transitioning New South Wales (NSW) towards a renewable energy future, with the State Government earmarking 24 new projects for development.

The projects, built on dams owned and operated by WaterNSW, would have a capacity of about 7000 megawatts and could supply 50% of the state’s demand for electricity on the hottest days.

Pumped hydro works by pumping water uphill when demand for energy is low and releasing it through a turbine to generate electricity when demand is high. There are currently 36 large- and small-scale hydro-electric power stations in NSW, including the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme.

In the recently released NSW Pumped Hydro Roadmap, the NSW Government outlined its plan to ramp up the development of pumped hydro storage projects to support the increasing levels of wind and solar generation.

The government worked with the Australian National University (ANU) to identify potential pumped hydro sites, finding 22,000 reservoirs that could be used for a possible 98,000 schemes. However, with the Australian Energy Market Operator predicting NSW will need 9000 megawatts of utility-scale energy storage in 2040, only a small number of the schemes would need to be developed.

NSW Minister for Energy and Utilities Don Harwin said new pumped hydro developments would help support the $26 billion worth of renewable energy projects being built in the state.

“Pumped hydro delivers the long-term, utility-scale energy storage that is critical to achieving a smooth transition to renewables in NSW,” Harwin said.

While the NSW Government has previously built and financed large-scale hydroelectricity projects, in the Roadmap it called on the private sector to invest in the state’s energy future.

It will offer funding through the $55 million Emerging Energy Program to support the commercialisation of projects and pre-investment studies to help get new projects off the ground.

All proposals will need to prioritise WaterNSW’s water security, operational and dam safety obligations, and ensure there are no negative effects on water quality or customers’ water bills.

Minister for Regional Water Niall Blair said combining water security infrastructure with renewable energy options was a win-win for the public sector, industry and the community.

“This is a great use of our dams – we know clean energy projects like this are key to attracting investment in our regional communities and ensuring their growth for generations to come,” Blair said.

“We have received enormous interest from the private sector with 65 commercial opportunities identified, 24 of which WaterNSW has selected for further investigation.”