LETTER: Re-instating hydro system a pipe dream

THERE has been some discussion within your pages since Mr Turnbull's announcement of a $2 billion water-recycling scheme for the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric system and his announcement has also generated discussion in our region regarding the dormant hydro-electric station at Nymboida.

During much of my working life I was with two companies which had close connections (as contractors) with the original Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Authority (SMHEA) and the current Snowy-Hydro organisation.

The first connection spanned almost 30 years; the second covered six years, to my retirement in 2012, and as I was working in conjunction with Snowy personnel I became quite familiar with many of the aspects of the system.

It may not be generally known that SMHEA/Snowy-Hydro have been recirculating water for almost as long as the scheme has been in full swing... that's 40-plus years.

There are several "ponds" (to use their term... they are quite large in area) into which water is recycled after passing through a power station and in addition there is at least one location where the water passes through an upper station (Tumut 1) and then, further downstream, through another (Tumut 2).

What also may not be general knowledge is that the system does not operate at maximum output 24 hours a day, or even 7 days a week, or even 52 weeks in the year.

For some considerable time the Snowy has been used as an "on-demand" service, providing electricity to the ACT and the NSW & Victorian systems when required.

Because hydro-electricity is almost instantly available - turn on a very large tap and the turbine starts spinning the generator immediately and electricity starts to be produced - the system has been used to help in high demand situations when the capacity of the gas and coal-fired stations starts to reach their maximum.

Another little-known fact about the Snowy scheme is that it was originally intended for irrigation; the fact that it could also be used to generate electricity was not the principal reason for its construction.

We are extremely fortunate that the powers-that-be back in the day had the foresight to incorporate electricity generation into the scheme.

I recall being told by a senior Snowy engineer that there is absolutely no way that the system we now have could ever be constructed today due to environmental considerations, therefore it will be interesting to see exactly how the "Turnbull Project" pans out... and how long it takes.

With regard to the abandoned station at Nymboida; the spokesperson for Essential Energy hit the nail (and Councillor Williamson's argument) on the head when she pointed out the age, condition and suitability of the existing equipment means that the cost to re-instate that station would be quite considerable. It's a pipe-dream.

Bruce Kennewell, Yamba