Australia to invest $2.2b in hydro plant amid power crisis

Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull at the Tumut 3 power station at the Snowy Hydro project in Talbingo, New South Wales, yesterday. The project, involving new tunnels and power stations, would boost the capacity of the 4,100MW hydroelectric plant by 50 p
Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull at the Tumut 3 power station at the Snowy Hydro project in Talbingo, New South Wales, yesterday. The project, involving new tunnels and power stations, would boost the capacity of the 4,100MW hydroelectric plant by 50 per cent.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Expanding scheme could power half a million homes but critics say that it won't solve woes

SYDNEY • Billions of dollars will be pumped into a massive hydroelectric project in Australia, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said yesterday, as the country faces a growing power crisis after a huge blackout and heatwave strained supplies.

The expansion of the Snowy Mountains Scheme in New South Wales state could provide electricity to 500,000 homes, which Mr Turnbull described as an "electricity game-changer".

The project, involving new tunnels and power stations, would boost the capacity of the 4,100MW hydroelectric plant by 50 per cent and is estimated by local media to cost up to A$2 billion (S$2.2 billion).

"Every Australian should be confident that they can turn the lights on when they need them," Mr Turnbull said in a statement.

Although Australia is one of the world's largest producers of coal and gas, there are question marks about its energy security after South Australia suffered a statewide blackout last September and record-high temperatures in recent months put pressure on supplies in the country's east.

Although Australia is one of the world's largest producers of coal and gas, there are question marks about its energy security after South Australia suffered a statewide blackout last September and record-high temperatures in recent months put pressure on supplies in the country's east.

The closure of several ageing coal-fired power plants, strong demand for gas exports and a rise in onshore gas-drilling bans have fuelled concerns of a looming domestic energy shortage.

"The unprecedented expansion will help make renewables reliable, filling in holes caused by intermittent supply and generator outages," Mr Turnbull said.

But Mr Danny Price, a former energy adviser to Mr Turnbull, said that while the hydro technology was robust and viable, it would not solve current power woes.

"I would describe it as a thought bubble, it will be years before anything happens," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "This is not a quick fix, this is a much longer-term plan, people should not get carried away because... it's a complicated system (and) a long way off."

The South Australian government on Tuesday unveiled a A$550 million plan that included building a new gas-fired power plant and the country's largest battery to store energy from the wind and sun.

The energy crisis in the country has triggered political tensions.

Mr Turnbull's Liberal-National coalition government blamed the power outages in South Australia, ruled by the Labor Party, on the rapid uptake of renewable energy, particularly wind and solar power.

Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg on Tuesday said South Australia's plan was "nonsense", with the government seeking legal advice to determine if its actions would breach national electricity market rules.

Mr Turnbull on Sunday spoke to United States technology star Elon Musk, the entrepreneur behind electric carmaker Tesla, after he offered to fix South Australia's power crisis with a battery farm. Mr Musk earlier said on Twitter he could get the system installed and working in 100 days, or it would be supplied free.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 17, 2017, with the headline 'Australia to invest $2.2b in hydro plant amid power crisis'. Print Edition | Subscribe