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Sunday, January 17, 2021

Renewable future for retired coal mine?

In a rare stand of unity, federal and state politicians appear likely to back a trial project that will look at transforming an old Hunter coal mine into a source of reliable renewable energy to power households and businesses across NSW.

It was recently announced Centennial Coal had received more than $5 million in government funding to investigate the feasibility of turning its underground operation at Lake Macquarie, Newstan Colliery, into a pumped hydro storage site.

That would then supply an additional 600MW (megawatts) of renewable energy into the grid.

The Lake Macquarie venture boasts a number of existing features, too, that should lower the cost of repurposing the facility for pumped hydro, including a reservoir, a grid connection and available water sources.

If the trial is successful, it could lead to the repurposing of other retired sites, giving them a second stint as clean and dispatchable sources of renewable energy and providing ongoing jobs for regional communities.

Federal Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor said the pilot would help determine if end-of-life coal facilities can be repurposed to continue contributing to Australia’s energy mix.

“The government is focused on getting the best energy outcomes for Australian households and businesses – and this requires new dispatchable sources of generation like gas and pumped hydro to complement intermittent renewables,” he explained.

“This study will give us a better understanding of the commercial advantages that underground pumped hydro energy storage provides.

“By repurposing old sites and taking advantage of the features at those facilities, we can bring more clean energy projects online that bring down emissions and deliver the secure and reliable power Australians need.”

NSW Energy and Environment Minister Matt Kean, who visited the region with Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon last week, echoed Mr Taylor’s sentiments.

He added supporting long-duration storage projects like pumped hydro was a key part of the NSW Government’s recently-announced Electricity Infrastructure Roadmap.

“Pumped hydro is not only a great source of cheap, reliable electricity, it is a huge creator of construction jobs and investment for host communities and the broader economy,” he said.

“This project could change the way we rehabilitate retired mine sites.

“It would breathe new life into existing infrastructure links and supporting existing workforces and local economies to continue their contribution to our energy mix.”  

The federal government is providing $995,000 through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency while its state counterpart is injecting $4.1 million through the Emerging Energy Program to support the $13 million trial.

The project has the potential to create up to 1000 jobs during the construction phase, as well as ongoing employment opportunities for locals.