Mon. Jun 24th, 2024

The latest development as part of the New England Renewable Energy Zone, a massive pumped hydro system to be built underground at Oven Mountain between Armidale and Kempsey, has entered the community comment part of the development process.

The Oven Mountain Pumped Hydro Energy Storage project is an ‘off river’ development located adjacent to the Macleay River between Armidale and Kempsey by OMPS Pty Ltd in partnership with Alinta Energy. Pumped hydro allows for excess power to be stored, working like a giant battery. Water is pumped up to the top reservoir when there is a lot of energy being generated by the other solar and wind projects in the New England REZ, and then that water is pushed down through the generating turbines when there is less renewable energy being generated. This system will allow for around 600 megawatts, or 12 hours, of renewable energy to be stored.

Graphic of the proposed Oven Mountain Pumped Hydro system (Oven Mountain Pumped Hydro website)

Being an ‘off river’ scheme means that once filled, the project will have little additional need for water over its operational life. Water from the Macleay River will be used for the initial fill and will be drawn under high river flow conditions.

The project will include the construction of a new electricity transmission network from the generation site to the Lower Creek area. It will also include upgrades to existing local and regional roads, allowing for safe construction and operation access.

The full Environmental Impact Statement is now available here. The company has provided a helpful and more accessible summary on their website. Members of the community are invited to make comments until October 16.

However, like all these projects, the documents are long and complicated, so local MP Adam Marshall and Armidale Mayor Sam Coupland have asked for the time period to be extended, as it was for the controversial Winterbourne Wind project.

“The project proponent has had years to compile its EIS, so it’s only reasonable to give the community impacted by the project adequate time to respond, beyond the current submission closing date of 16 October,” Mr Marshall said.

“I’ve requested and additional month of public exhibition, which is the same as the extension granted by the previous Minister last year for the Winterbourne Windfarm proposal at Walcha, at my request on behalf of the local community.”

“The extra time would allow locals to respond with better quality submissions and give the Department a much better sense of community views, questions and concerns, which is the whole purpose of the public exhibition period.”

Unlike Winterbourne Wind, the EIS for this project is not a ‘bare minimum’ document and it appears that considerable concern has been taken to research environmental impact well beyond the disturbance footprint. While the impact on the river itself is expected to be minimal, the project is expected to have some impact on areas that rely on groundwater including the upland heath swamps of the New England Tableland Bioregion, part of the Montane Peatlands and Swamps. Forrest redgum and grey gum stringybark will be the most affected by necessary clearing. And, while a large number of birds and animals have been identified and assessed, the only concern is less than a hectare of habitat for the brush-tailed rock wallaby.

Details about the proposal and how to comments are available on the NSW Government Planning Portal https://www.planningportal.nsw.gov.au/major-projects/projects/oven-mountain-pumped-hydro-energy-storage

Note: The New England Times had applied to the NSW Government for a grant to create a Development Portal, so the community could benefit from our experienced journalists breaking down the EIS into more accessible information and walk community members through the process for each of the developments in the New England REZ, however, the grant application was unsuccessful. As a result, we are unable to do the level of detailed reporting on other projects as we did for Winterbourne Wind.

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