Burrinjuck hydro power station expansion could provide more than 150 local jobs

ELECTRICITY FLOWS: Meridian Energy proposes to increase Burrinjuck hydro power station by 50 megawatts per year. Photo: supplied
ELECTRICITY FLOWS: Meridian Energy proposes to increase Burrinjuck hydro power station by 50 megawatts per year. Photo: supplied

Meridian Energy Australia has been given the green light for a NSW Government grant to look at the feasibility of increasing electricity generated at Burrinjuck hydro power station in Yass Valley.

The renewable energy company that powers Powershop Australia and is owned by New Zealand's largest electricity generator, currently generates about 81 gigawatt-hours per year from the station's two six megawatts (MW) and one 16 megawatts generation units.

That's enough to power about 16,000 average households (based on an average household usage of five MW-hours per year).

The grant from the government's $75 million Emerging Energy Program would fund a feasibility study into a hydro energy storage at Burrunjuck that would generate about 50MW of additional electricity.

Although, that number could change depending on the storage option.

Meridian Energy Australia is looking at two hydro energy storage options at this stage, head of asset development Gus Holcombe said.

The first option is traditional pumped hydro, which "would involve a new small pondage above Burrinjuck Dam. Water would be discharged from the upper reservoir, down a penstock (pipes or long channels), through a generator and end up in the existing reservoir and pumped back up," Mr Holcombe said.

"The other option would be a downstream weir: a new reservoir, smaller than the existing, a couple of kilometres downstream. Water would be discharged into a down stream reservoir and there would be a new generator and pumping station along the way, which would pump the water back up."

Burinjuck Dam. Photo: Supplied

Burinjuck Dam. Photo: Supplied

The additional electricity would be captured during periods of low demand and released in periods of high demand to Powershop Australia's 140,000 customers, Mr Holcombe said.

Although, one of the issues the project could face is drought. Burrinjuck's water level has sat at about 30 per cent since March. Meridian Energy isn't worried, however.

"We take a very long-term view on an asset like this. It would have a lifespan of about 80 years, so we recognise there are droughts and good years along the way. In 2016 the dam was spilling over and in drought, it's a good opportunity to catch up on maintenance work until conditions improve," he said.

The company also doesn't believe Snowy Hydro 2.0 will dominate the hydro power market, Mr Holcombe said.

"We're comfortable with a project of this size and location. I don't think there's any chance of being crowded. We'll need quite a few of them in different locations. We own the station, so it makes sense to co-locate additional storage assets where we can," he said.

The project would produce jobs locally with local consultancies needed to create the feasibility study and about 50 to 150 construction workers needed if the project goes ahead, Mr Holcombe said.

The feasibility study should take about 18 months. After that, Meridian Energy would need to secure land and lodge the necessary applications.

The company is also yet to accept the funding offered by the NSW Government.

Meridian Energy purchased Burrinjuck hydro power station, one of Australia's first hydro power stations, from GSP Energy in April 2018.

Part of the original power station is heritage listed due to its history.

"Burrinjuck was once the backbone of the lower NSW electricity system before Snowy Hydro, so its location in the network is good," Mr Holcombe said.