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WaterNSW moves to support pumped hydro assessments

As the transition to renewable energy continues across Australia, one NSW water authority is leaning into the potential of its major assets to contribute to the green energy mix through the addition of pumped hydro power.

WaterNSW has awarded development agreements to investigate pumped hydro projects at four of its sites across the state, including:

  • Lake Burragorang in western Sydney, for ZEN Energy to investigate repurposing a disused coal washery site 24km upstream from the Warragamba Dam wall as a pumped hydro project capable of generating 1000MW for up to 8 hours at peak times.
  • Glenbawn and Glennies Creek dams in the Hunter Valley, for Upper Hunter Hydro (UHH) to investigate two projects capable of storing more than 1000 MW for 8-12 hours – as much power as one million household batteries.
  • Burrendong Dam in the Central West, for ACEN Australia to investigate its Phoenix pumped hydro project capable of generating 810MW with storage for up to 12 hours.

With the projects tendered under WaterNSW’s Renewable Energy and Storage Program, the companies will have access to areas of WaterNSW land and reservoirs to conduct feasibility studies.
WaterNSW CEO Andrew George said the projects are the latest milestones in ongoing efforts to grow sustainability initiatives, and identify renewable energy generation and storage opportunities on WaterNSW land holdings and assets.

“We have an opportunity to not only assist the transition to a renewable energy power grid, but to also assist in the creation of jobs, support the local community, and generate revenue to put downward pressure on water costs for customers,” he said.

“We are continuing to assess sites across our portfolio to identify further opportunities.”

WaterNSW has been working with the NSW Government to ensure the WaterNSW Renewable Energy and Storage Program is aligned with delivering the state’s objectives under the NSW Electricity Strategy, George said.

“Our program fulfills an action of the NSW Pumped Hydro Roadmap of bringing forward private sector investment in pumped hydro schemes,” George said.

UHH Director Malcolm Turnbull said pumped hydro projects could provide important support for local industry and employment in the Hunter, but also play an important role in transitioning to renewables across the state.

“Australia has abundant wind and solar generation, some of the best in the world. But the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow,” he said.
“Pumped hydro provides the long duration energy storage we need to make renewables available 24/7 and secure our clean energy future.”

Exploring potential

WaterNSW Executive Manager Operations Ronan Magaharan said the WaterNSW Renewable Energy and Storage Program is an excellent opportunity for the water authority to contribute to the state’s continued renewable energy efforts.
“WaterNSW has a strategic priority to build a sustainable future, but also support the states renewable energy goals. And this presents such a great opportunity for us to use our existing assets, our dams that are already in place, in a more sustainable and responsible way,” he said.
“Not only does it allow us to meet our goals in terms of minimising our carbon footprint, it also supports the government's goals around transitioning to a renewable energy grid and achieving their net zero goals.
“The projects also have the potential to help WaterNSW maintain financial sustainability and keep downward pressure on our customers' bills. If all goes well, WaterNSW will have these assets generating income for years to come as our assets support the creation of renewable energy.
“That's a great thing for our customers, but also for everyone right across the state.”
Magaharan said WaterNSW’s development agreements with ZEN, UHH and ACEN Australia are just some of the opportunities being explored, with important studies now underway to assess specific requirements at each site.
“UHH for example has a couple of projects they are looking at and they are in the early conceptual design phase right now. The agreement provides exclusive right to progress the feasibility and development on our land holdings,” he said.
“They will get out to site to understand the studies they need to do to progress the environmental impact assessment, as well as geo-technical investigations to understand and inform the design of the infrastructure.

“The studies are also about understanding the species present at the sites, including flora and fauna, that need to be considered in the environmental impact assessment for planning approval.”

Bolstering private investment

While WaterNSW has an immediate focus on supporting ZEN, UHH, ACEN Australia and other companies in their development assessments, Magaharan said the authority is also looking at other assets on its sites in support of more investment in renewable energy projects in future.
“It’s important to note that each project is self-funded by the proponent and will be at no cost to WaterNSW customers,” he said.
“The private market hasn’t always been interested in investing, as the risks have always been considered high. Uncertainty around transmission is one issue. But there are also geo-technical risks that must be carefully considered.
“We are considering and exploring sites that minimise the amount of tunneling needed, but also address continued water availability and environmental risks.
“But we are currently looking at our sites to help us understand those risks further, so that we can communicate with the private market effectively.”
Magaharan said WaterNSW is one of the largest landholders in the state, presenting opportunities for pumped hydro facilities, but also other renewable energy projects, such as wind farming.
“There are potential opportunities around other renewable energy schemes that we could work with the market on. Battery storage is one, but wind farms are another. We are not resting on our laurels, we recognise we have great assets that we can utilise in other ways,” he said.
“For energy market stability, we need the right mix of using the water we have, with the wind and sun, and we have all these things right here for us to create a greener and more sustainable future.”
Given WaterNSW is one of many land holding water authorities across Australia, Magaharan said the current development assessments likely also produce great insights for similar projects elsewhere.
“There is a lot of interest from other parts of the country around this work, particularly those who have existing dam infrastructure and are interested in what's needed to support pumped hydro,” he said.
“Building a dam for pumped hydro is one of the most expensive parts of the process, and it's also one of the things that impacts the environment the most.
“So if we can utilise the dams that we already have to create more value through renewable energy production, it’ll be a great outcome.”