Gippsland News & Views

Baw Baw Pumped Hydro Energy Storage 3

Reservoirs relative to Baw Baw Frog habitat

Environmental impacts*

As we transition to a low emission, low-cost, renewable dominated grid over the coming years and decades, Australia will need to significantly increase its fleet of dispatchable generators. Gas-powered generators can fulfil this function, but despite being touted by many as a ‘transition fuel’ and the supposed key to Australia’s Covid recovery, gas extraction and consumption is increasingly costly – economically, environmentally, and in terms of greenhouse emissions. Pumped Hydro Energy Storage (PHES) schemes offer a long-term, large-scale alternative – and whilst they are not without cost from environmental or economic perspectives, these should be seen in the context of the alternatives. In this post, we consider the environmental impacts of the Baw Baw PHES, and compare its metrics against a high profile gas extraction development.

Unlike traditional Hydro schemes, PHES does not rely on capturing and diverting the flow of natural watercourses. The proposed reservoirs would indeed capture rainwater from upstream catchment, but environmental flows below the dams can be maintained at up to 100% of present-day rate if required. This would not affect the viability of the scheme, as the captured water would represent only a fraction of the total energy passing through the scheme. Habitat, and other uses downstream should not – if managed carefully – be affected. There would be no effect on flows below the Thomson Dam, including the Gippsland lakes: unlike coal plants, PHES does not consume water.

Building the Baw Baw PHES scheme would, however, impact on native vegetation. The footprints of the reservoirs, pressure race, transmission lines, powerhouse, and required upgrades to existing access roads would result in significant modification, or loss, of vegetation and habitat currently within them. This should, however, be viewed in the context of other large-scale projects. 

A high-profile Coal Seam Gas (CSG) project in NSW, currently nearing construction after almost a decade of seeking sign off, has approval to clear up to 1000 Hectares of native state forest within its footprint. The proponents estimate, at full production, it will deliver 200 TJ of gas per day: at standard heat rates (10 GJ/MWh for an open cycle turbine) this would represent 20 Gigawatt hours of electricity.

By contrast, stage one of the Baw Baw scheme (14 Gigawatt hours) is estimated to affect in the order of 160 Hectares of forest. The reservoir would have an area of 45 Hectares, and the balance arises from conservative estimates for the 40 km or so of new transmission corridor to the existing network; access road upgrades; and hydroelectric infrastructure. The transmission line would need to traverse approximately 4.5km of the Baw Baw national park north of Rawson- this section, however, may be tunnelled under the park. Once at the Thomson dam, the line would avoid significant forest clearing by stringing the line over the lake up to the powerhouse at the water’s edge.

Stage two, adding a further 56 Gigawatt hours of storage, may impact a further 170 Hectares of forest- comprising the 140 Hectare area of the reservoir, plus widening of existing access roads and a couple of kilometres of new road. The potential Thompson impacts on potential habitat of the endangered Baw Baw frog would need to be assessed, as historical sightings have been made nearby (see map above).

The impacts of the Baw Baw PHES scheme, estimated at about a third that of a Coal-Seam Gas project of comparable size, should be viewed in terms of its lifetime. Where the CSG project has an economic lifetime of only 20 years, the pumped hydro scheme would operate essentially indefinitely- not requiring the endless pursuit of new resource discoveries and extraction, each likely to be more expensive, difficult and environmentally fraught than those that came before it. In the next – and final – post, we consider possible pathways to the Baw Baw PHES coming to fruition.

* Our guest contributor is a Gippsland-bred engineer, working in the power industry. Links to previous posts are (1) the growing need for deep and medium storage and (2) further engineering insights and refinements. Still to come (4) how to progress

Baw Baw Pumped Hydro Energy Storage 2

Reservoir 1, Pressure Race, Tail Race and Transmission lines along Lake Thomson

Further engineering insights and refinements*

The Baw Baw Pumped Hydro Energy Storage (PHES) scheme, as described when first put forward here two years ago, would draw water from Lake Thomson to a new reservoir approximately 15 kilometers, and almost 700m higher, across the Baw Baw masiff. During times of peak demand water would return through the same underground tunnels, forming an energy storage scheme on a similar scale to Snowy 2.0, and the ‘Battery of the Nation’ proposal for Tasmania. As discussed in the previous post, such projects will be vital to accelerate Australia’s transition to a low emission, low cost, reliable energy supply, and will create and support regional jobs along the way.

The reservoir originally proposed is one of 22,000 found across Australia as part of a 2017 ANU study. Coupled with a two Gigawatt hydroelectric plant it would have a run-time of 28 hours – a ‘deep storage’ system that could smooth out variation in energy supply across months and seasons. Bringing this configuration online in one stage could, however, present challenges: as our energy supply transitions to become increasingly variable, shallow and medium-depth storage will be needed first, followed by more deep storage as the last coal plants come offline. Construction of the large, remote reservoir, and the 5km of tunneling under the Baw Baw range, would also be a significant undertaking, needing a compelling business case to justify it.

The scheme is now envisaged as being developed in two key stages. In the first stage, a smaller, 8GL reservoir (also found in the ANU study) situated on the east side of the Baw Baw range would be developed, much closer to the Thomson dam, as shown in the screen grab above.

If built initially with a one Gigawatt generation capacity, the scheme would run for 14 hours on a full charge: providing the medium-depth storage needed in the next phase of transition in the electricity market. The proximity to lake Thomson means underground tunneling would be limited to 1600m; the pressure race (pipes carrying water downhill) could be constructed above-ground; and the powerhouse close to the surface on the shore of the existing lake. These minimise cost, and together with the improved efficiency of shorter piping distance bolster the project’s business case. As coal plants progressively retire, additional generation capacity could be added: at two Gigawatts, this one-reservoir configuration would have a 7-hour depth of storage.

As the need emerges, the west reservoir (which, at 30 GL, would be much larger, and slightly higher) could be built – either to enhance the depth of storage, support further increases in power capacity, or both. This scheme could also provide an important insurance policy for Victoria for cases of extended ‘wind droughts’ or major network failures: the combined scheme would have 70 Gigawatt hours of dispachable generation.

No energy project is without its drawbacks, and environmental impacts of such a scheme would be unavoidable. In the next post we will consider these, and the context of projects of similar scale.

* Our guest contributor is a Gippsland-bred engineer, working in the power industry. The previous post is (1) the growing need for deep and medium storage. To follow on over the next month are (3) environmental impacts and (4) how to progress

Baw Baw Pumped Hydro Energy Storage 1

(RENEW 153)

The growing need for deep and medium storage*

A bit over two years ago, this blog published an article suggesting a large-scale Pumped Hydro Energy Storage (PHES) in Gippsland could smooth the transition out of brown coal. This post, and several to follow**, offer some further insights on the need, potential configuration, and context of environmental impacts, of a Baw Baw PHES scheme.

In 2018 the Australian Energy Market Operator implemented a long-term blueprint for ensuring the ongoing performance, reliability, and least-cost transformation of the east-coast grid: the Integrated System Plan (ISP). The latest revision, released in July, considers five future scenarios: ranging from ‘slow change’ (with government intervention to extend the life of existing coal plants); to ‘step change’, where rapid action is taken to reduce emissions to meet and exceed our Paris climate goals. To anyone interested in Australia’s energy system, and emission reduction pathways, this document is an essential read.

The ISP makes it clear that a key requirement across scenarios will be an increase in dispatchable generation. This is needed to complement the large volume (over 26 Gigawatts) of low-cost, but variable, renewable energy projects forecast to come online in the next two decades, replacing the nation’s ageing fleet of coal generators. Between 6 and 19 Gigawatts (a billion watts) of such capacity will, depending on the scenario, be required over the next two decades, and is expected to be either gas turbine, lithium battery, or PHES technology. For context, Australia’s largest gas turbine facility is the 0.6 GW, four-unit Colongra station; the massive Snowy 2.0 expansion is 2 GW; and what was – until recently – the world’s largest battery in South Australia is 0.15 GW. The scale of new capacity required is, by any measure, enormous.

An energy storage facility is classed as either shallow or deep, determined by the length of time it can operate at full output before its energy is drained. Less than two hours is considered ‘shallow’: useful for bridging short ‘peak’ periods each day, like when solar drops off and demand peaks after sunset. 24 hours or more is ‘deep storage’, which can operate across seasons. It may build up charge, for instance, in spring when demand is low and wind and solar output high (see image above), and then discharge at the height of summer (or depth of winter) when power demand soars. ‘Medium’ storage sits between these two – typically between 4 and 12 hours of charge. As the proportion of variable renewable capacity increases, the greater the need first for medium, then deep, large-scale storage to meet demand. Despite advances in battery technology, and their fast-response, grid-stabilisation capabilities, the economics and practicalities of ‘deep storage’ batteries are still considered distant.

A Baw Baw PHES would not be an ‘alternative’ to Snowy 2.0: it, and a pipeline of other storage and transmission projects, will be needed to accelerate the transition from a fossil-powered grid. In the next post, we look at ways the Baw Baw scheme can be engineered and staged to provide deep (and ‘medium’) storage – as well as an insurance policy for the grid – over the coming decades.

* Our guest contributor is a Gippsland-bred engineer, working in the power industry

**To follow on over the next month or so are (2) further engineering insights and refinements (3) environmental impacts and (4) how to progress

Voting Climate in East Gippsland Council Elections

Prior to ballot papers being mailed out EGCAN (East Gippsland Climate Action Network) submitted a climate questionnaire to all candidates – only eight replied and of them, five positively. EGCAN originally planned to publish the results prior to the commencement of balloting using a ‘traffic light’ analogy, but because of the poor response decided not to do so.

Here is my effort to fill the gap. I have divided the 21 candidates into the traffic light colors – green being climate friendly, red the most likely opponents and amber in between, unclear or not known. Within each of these groups the candidates are not ranked.

The Green group is mainly made up of EGCAN members, or supporters of more climate action by the Shire, and those that returned the questionnaire. In this group are Kendall, Urie, Greacen, Crook, Schroder, and Dutton. Schroder is a borderline case as he did not complete the questionnaire and appears to have made deals with inappropriate candidates.

The Amber group of candidates is the largest including Buckley and Simon Ellis who both replied to the questionnaire with mixed responses; Dick Ellis, White and Reeves all of whom voted against the climate emergency petition; Neophytou, Van Diggele, Neale, Allen, Stow, Rowe, and McNeill. Candidates with the Red light are Behan, Barling, and Roberts.

Depending on how the vote turns out your preferences are very important – in some instances up to your fourteenth preference may count. It is therefore very important to keep these numbers as tight as possible. We will be voting on climate for the rest of the decade as the climate emergency dictates. Now is a good time to start if you have not already done so. Remember to discuss climate at every opportunity and to spread the word.

Coastal Erosion and Climate Change

Bunurong Coast 2019

Retired CSIRO climate scientist Barrie Pittock* penned a missive in response to an article entitled “Bayside councils acting on beach erosion” referring to erosion in Port Phillip Bay. The article, Barrie said: “missed the point that this is a much wider problem in Victoria, with widespread coastal erosion along the Bass coast. I have long shared a holiday house [at] Lake Bunga, just east of Lakes Entrance, and have observed large amounts of coastal erosion already. It is partly due to sea-level rise, but mostly… due to the strengthening and warming of the East Australian current, and the mid-latitude westerlies moving further south.”

Barrie continued that: “this has led to a slightly higher sea-level in the East of Bass Strait and stronger and more frequent easterly winds and waves along the Victorian coast. That has led to more erosion of the East side of headlands, including the one at the eastern end of the 90-mile beach, and the bluff at Barwon Heads, and cliffs near Anglesea, and to the need for more protection of the Entrance to the Gippsland Lakes. The coastal edge of the Lakes Entrance golf course has been seriously eroded, with loss of some sand dunes and coastal tea-trees there and further along the coast.”

“In the foreseeable future we can expect far worse coastal erosion, and I expect the blocking of the outlet of the Barwon River at Barwon Heads, by sand moving westwards… That is just some of it! We have a big problem due to sea-level rise and changing ocean currents and wave motion.”

Other Gippsland examples in line with Barrie’s comments include the severe erosion at Inverloch, which has been frequently mentioned in this blog. Sea level rise, coastal erosion, and storm surge in combination are already threatening and damaging our coast.

*I receive regular emails from Barrie – mostly letters to various journals and papers. For more on Barrie see here.

Where are Darren and Russell? Climate Protest

(image Tony Peck)

Yesterday climate action groups across Gippsland ran a “Where are Darren and Russell on Climate Change?” covid safe protest. The protesters wore masks and practiced social distancing, whilst displaying signs and placards on various aspects of the issue. They were highlighting the silence of local members of the House of Reps Darren Chester of Gippsland and Russell Broadbent of Monash on climate change.

In Bairnsdale, a small group of EGCAN (East Gippsland Climate Action Network) activists worked at the rotunda in Main Street, photographing numerous individuals and their placards with a large colourful banner “Future Superpower” as backdrop. EGCAN organiser Angela Crunden praised the event and noted that images were received from 40 locations across Gippsland, including Churchill, Clifton Creek, Wonthaggi and Inverloch. Many of these images with their messages to our local politicians have been posted on the social media.

Angela stated that “A lot of fun was had by enthusiastic activists who wanted to drive home the serious message to Federal MPs Darren Chester and Russell Broadbent that they can do a whole lot better on climate” and added “Darren and Russell have access to leading scientific research and predictions for our climate future. They must know that emergency action on climate change is the single most important problem for human survival… and yet they are all but silent on this issue.”

Coincidentally Darren Chester has just appeared on the ABC’s Q&A program defending the government’s policies on climate and energy. His performance was roundly criticised by NSW Independent MP Zali Steggall who tweeted “Darren Chester spinning the Govt talking points on emissions reduction and lack of energy policy. For someone with an electorate devastated by bushfires, it beggars belief.”

Promoting the protest on the Yes 2 Renewables facebook page Pat Simons noted, “It’s a good opportunity to pressure the federal government to stop blocking offshore wind, and highlight renewable energy solutions in the region. While Darren Chester is generally supportive of the Star of the South, he hasn’t said anything about bringing on offshore clean energy laws needed to pave the way for the project.”

It is ironic that both our MPs are more ‘liberal’ in the true sense of the word than other members of their respective parties and are thus more likely to respect science, yet they seem unable to speak out on climate. They remain loyal to the party line rather than acting on behalf of their constituents or on what science has been saying for many years. Like Malcom Turnbull, they remain hostage to the fossil fuel lobby.

Time to Vote Climate in the local elections


It appears as though the coming local elections in Victoria will give voters plenty of opportunities to ‘vote climate’. I am aware of a number of a number of climate and climate emergency candidates standing for office outside of Gippsland and in four of the six Gippsland shires. In East Gippsland the situation is both pleasing and favourable. When I stood in the last local election in 2016 I was the lone ‘climate emergency’ candidate amongst a long list of 39. 

Since then the local EGCAN (East Gippsland Climate Action Network) has been very active, as have been a number of similar groups across Gippsland. This time in East Gippsland there are only 21 candidates, greatly increasing the chances of a candidate being elected. Of those candidates 6 of them are members of EGCAN, including one of the founders and former mayor Mendy Urie, climate emergency organiser Sally Kendall and Tom Crook, who was the co-ordinator during the student strike last year.

Other EGCAN members standing include Dr Jane Greacen, Jeremy Schroeder, Kim Dutton (as Animal Justice Party candidate) and Akarna Bowers (as a Green in the Wellington shire). Regular readers will be aware of my preference for independents rather than party candidates.

The other chance advantage is that three of the EGCAN candidates (Mendy, Jane and Tom) are at the top of the ballot paper and though the percentage for the donkey vote remains a mystery, this must be some help. This also puts some the candidates in the middle of the ballot paper, like Sally, at a disadvantage. Hopefully the preferences of these candidates will be well co-ordinated and tight.

Statistically, with about a third of the candidates in East Gippsland as climate emergency supporters, they should win three seats. However winning one seat will be an achievement, two a bonus and a third bordering on a miracle.

Elsewhere in Gippsland, in Bass Coast there are at least two candidates opposing the sitting councillors who both voted against the climate emergency declaration. Also in Latrobe City former candidate in the last Federal election Antoinette Holm (ALP) has, in online tweets, declared for the climate emergency. I am not aware of what is happening in either Baw Baw Shire or South Gippsland but assume that there are some activists, or sympathisers, standing as candidates. Perhaps they have organised a comprehensive candidate survey on climate for all candidates, as has been done by EGCAN.

Wherever you live I urge you to ‘vote climate’ by casting your vote in favour of climate emergency candidates.

Latrobe Valley Renewable Energy Zone


For several years I have been pushing for a ‘just transition’ in the Latrobe Valley. This involves creating new jobs in the community to compensate for the closure of the power stations and mines. To assist this process I have suggested that over full employment is necessary. Recently I have been spelling out one obvious way to achieve this – by creating a renewable energy zone in the Latrobe Valley.

I have not been alone in this advocacy, which has been carried on by others including Wendy Farmer and the Voices of the Valley team and by the Latrobe Valley Community Energy Hub. In April this year the latter organisation published a detailed paper on the subject called “Planning a Transition” by Chris Barfoot.

Amongst other things, Barfoot’s comprehensive paper emphasizes the advantage of the grid connection, and looks at various solar, floating solar, offshore wind and Thomson Dam pumped hydro proposals. He examines a number of other interesting energy possibilities including exploiting geothermal energy under the coal and recycling and reusing solar panels*. As an engineer and energy insider, Barfoot looks at the various means of achieving the ‘just transition’ as seamlessly as possible.

Chris and I have come to the task of a ‘just transition’ from opposite positions. He has spent most of his life working in the Valley power industry and recognised that change is needed, whilst I have been a renewable energy fan and user most of my life and recognised that this transition is needed as part of a large number of policies required to combat global warming.  

There are a number of differences between our approaches but they all revolve around the matter of urgency – how quickly we must get out of all burning fossil fuels. For instance, Chris includes both Carbon Capture and Storage and the coal to hydrogen project in his transition, both of which I oppose as, to me, they are part of the problem. His timetable for the phase out of generators is also a lot slower than I would hope with the end of Yallourn between 2025-30 and Loy Yangs A & B between 2030-2040 – my preference being for a complete phase-out by 2030 at the latest.

But generally we are in agreement. Chris concludes: “The Latrobe Valley has been a fading force in the power industry for many years however, the adoption of renewables has the potential to open a new chapter…we have the opportunity to make these changes on our terms. We need to embrace it and to start planning for [the just transition] …” I hope to examine Chris’s plan in more detail in a later post.

*also as advocated by John Hermans a contributor to this column

Speak up, Russell and Darren! by Lauren Burns

Lauren Burns, left, and Lynn Atkinson prepare for Gippsland’s day of climate action

First published in the Bass Coast Post

WHERE are our elected representatives when we need them to speak out for urgent action on climate change, to stem the disastrous impacts on Gippsland? In the light of catastrophic bushfires, damaging sea level rises and drought affecting local farmers, Gippsland federal MPs Russell Broadbent and Darren Chester are noticeably absent from the dialogue on reducing our carbon emissions.

Both MPs have been silent on the climate emergency but vocal in their support for a gas-led economic recovery from the ravages of COVID-19. Gas is a polluting fossil fuel that will counter any chance of Australia meeting the internationally agreed Paris climate target. In response to this inaction by our democratically elected representatives, a community-led, COVID-19 restriction-compliant action is planned across Gippsland on October 3. Groups of up to 10 residents will meet at a key location in Gippsland towns. COVID principles will be observed, with social distancing, face-masks and hand sanitiser.

Each group will take photos, and record a short video to show Darren Chester and Russell Broadbent that we want climate action now. The day of action is and event of Gippsland Extinction Rebellion groups. Participants need to register for the action to support our planning and ensures a COVID-safe event.

One of the organisers, Lynn Atkinson, a grandmother of six school-aged children, says both MPs have supported policies that will destroy the futures of younger generations. “It is important for climate, sustainability and community groups across Gippsland to come together and show their MPs the extent of their concern about the climate crisis and the climate damaging impacts of a gas-led recovery. We need a climate and nature positive COVID-19 recovery program – not tax cuts and subsidies for fossil fuel businesses.”

Lynn says Gippsland has changed greatly since Mr Broadbent was elected in 1990, whereas his vision for the region has not. “Despite rising temperatures, drought and fires, he doesn’t publicly recognise the climate emergency and the need to act now. We can only assume Mr Broadbent and Mr Chester care more for their positions of power and the interests of party donors than ensuring a safe and liveable Gippsland for generations to come.”

A recent report from economic consultancy firm Ernst and Young found that a renewables-led economic recovery is jobs-rich and would create almost three times as many jobs as a fossil-fuel-led recovery. “They are leaving it too late:  this isn’t economic recovery, this is an economic disaster founded in an inability or reluctance to understand the risks of climate change,” she said. “I encourage everyone to get involved in this peaceful, upcoming Gippsland-wide, COVID-compliant action on Saturday 3rd October at 11 am in your own town. She says the day of action is an opportunity for Gippslanders to be heard. “Let’s make it very clear that we know our Federal members are being deliberately silent and we demand action now.”

Lauren Burns is a member of Extinction Rebellion. Participants in the Gippsland day of climate action need to register for the Action to support our planning and ensures a COVID-safe event. See here.

Our MPs can help reduce Global Warming

(image Tony Peck)

Media Release EGCAN

East Gippsland climate action campaigners are appealing to local MPs Darren Chester and Russell Broadbent to help reduce global warming. Angela Crunden of the East Gippsland Climate Action Network acknowledged the well-respected elected local representatives are bound by Coalition climate policy. But they say they believe in climate change and could work within the Coalition to help bring about climate policy change.

“It would be a titanic struggle,” she said. “Both of these politicians are popular in their electorates and are capable of providing the leadership required to get action. Look at Darren’s efforts on fire recovery and Russell’s recent comments on aged care. We know that as party members, they are under pressure to support Coalition policy to accept expansion of coal and greenhouse gas emitters. These are strategies that will raise global average temperatures 4C by 2100.”

“We the public can do our bit through actions such as recycling, Landcare participation, making our homes more energy efficient and using solar panels. But we can’t do it on our own. We need the MPs we elected to represent us to help change Canberra’s mind. We must have a federal plan to reach Net Zero emissions with support for acting urgently across the nation.”

“Covid 19 will seem like a walk in the park if we don’t act soon and decisively on climate. Bushfires here and in the USA, plummeting insect populations and powerful, destructive weather events are clear, terrifying warnings. We can’t afford these nightmares to continue”.

Gippsland Climate activists will gather on 3 October to send a message to the local MPs to join in helping to change Australia’s climate policy.

More information here.