The controversial Snowy Hydro 2.0 project in southern NSW is a step closer to being realised after the New South Wales government gave approval for its construction.
Conservationists have slammed the project, describing it as an environmental disaster which will destroy national parkland and further threaten vulnerable species.
The pumped hydro project will link two dams — Tantangara and Talbingo — and a new underground power station will be built.
The federal government argues that as renewable energy is unreliable, Snowy Hydro 2.0 is needed to act as a “giant battery”. It will pump water uphill into dams and release it when electricity demand is high.
Critics say that Hydro 2.0 will be very expensive and will increase the production of greenhouse gases overall.
National Parks Association of NSW (NPANSW) spokesperson Gary Dunnett said on May 21 that the Snowy 2.0 approval in Kosciuszko National Park sets bad “environmental and legal precedents” and puts Australia, once a leader in national park management, “at the “bottom of the pack”.
He said that the government had ignored 50 energy, engineering, economic and environmental experts and organisations “whose analysis utterly discredited the claimed benefits of Snowy 2.0”.
Their letter to Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated that Snowy 2.0 will cost many times its original estimate and will not deliver its “claimed benefit”. They also said that it would “permanently damage Kosciuszko National Park” and that there were “many alternatives that were cheaper, more efficient and would incur less greenhouse gas emissions.
“Never before has an industrial project been approved in a National Park, let alone one on such an enormous scale and wreaking such devastating environmental damage,” Dunnett said. That damage includes the dumping of 14 million cubic metres of contaminated spoil in the Park (on land and in reservoirs).
Snowy 2.0 will allow pest fish and diseases to be transferred from Talbingo up to Tantangara Reservoir and from there “throughout the Snowy Scheme and downstream rivers — Murrumbidgee, Tumut, Thredbo, Snowy and Murray Rivers — devastating both native fish and trout”. The critically endangered fish stocky galaxias would be at risk, and as well as several other threatened species.
“The unique habitats of the alpine zone were particularly hard hit by the terrible fires of last summer, yet Snowy Hydro propose clearing hundreds of hectares of irreplaceable threatened species habitat,” Dunnett said. “There are better energy storage alternatives to Snowy 2.0”.
Snowy 2.0 has been earmarked for fast-tracked planning approval as part of the NSW government’s package of major infrastructure projects to stimulate private investment, arising from the COVID-19 recession.
The Snowy 2.0 project now returns to the federal government, the sole owner of the Snowy Hydro scheme, for final approval.
The NPANSW has called for an immediate halt to Snowy 2.0 and for a comprehensive independent expert review to be undertaken.