Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says she has had preliminary talks with Premier Anthony Albanese seeking federal backing for plans to build the world’s largest pumped hydro project in the state’s north.
Palaszczuk was in Mackay on Thursday to release details about the proposed Pioneer-Burdekin project, which will take about a decade to plan and build.
He said the 5GW project was the “centerpiece” of Queensland’s energy plan announced on Wednesday, which sees large-scale construction of renewables and early closure of coal-fired generators. Under the plan, reliance on burning coal would cease around 2035.
However, the Pioneer-Burdekin project remains in the early stages and still requires significant planning and funding. The government said that while it was confident the proposal is feasible, it would continue to assess potential backup options.
The estimated cost of the project is 12,000 million dollars. The Queensland government has yet to commit money, though the project probably won’t start construction until 2025 at the earliest.
The state is expected to seek a significant federal contribution toward the cost of construction. “I have had very preliminary first talks with the prime minister and I know how much he is interested in national construction infrastructure,” Palaszczuk said.
Queensland Hydro, the newly appointed government entity to build the project, is expected to complete detailed geotechnical and environmental studies in 2024.
In the meantime, the organization “will also continue to investigate other long-duration, large-scale pumped hydro sites in the event that the project is unable to proceed,” a government statement said.
On Thursday, Palaszczuk and state energy minister Mick de Brenni said some 50 houses would be flooded under the plans, which involve the construction of three reservoirs. It will be necessary to carry out negotiations with the owners of the lands and with the indigenous traditional owners.
Environmental groups have largely embraced the state’s renewable ambitions outlined in the energy plan. But some have also raised concerns about the impacts of projects like the Pioneer-Burdekin.
The Mackay Conservation Group said Thursday that it was concerned about the project’s local environmental impacts.
“All of the water in the Pioneer Basin is already fully allocated for farmers, drinking water and environmental flows,” said group coordinator Peter McCallum.
“There is simply no unallocated water available to operate a pumped hydro scheme under the Pioneer Valley water plan. One of these stakeholders will have to suffer.
“We are also very concerned about the impacts any clearing for the project will have on the iconic Eungella National Park, which is one of Mackay’s crown jewels for biodiversity and tourism.”
Palaszczuk said part of the attraction of the site west of Mackay was that farmland and cane fields, rather than national parks, would be flooded to create the reservoirs.
He described the project as “the battery of the north.”
The hydroelectric scheme would have an effective storage capacity 617 times greater than South Australia’s Hornsdale Battery. It would be designed to generate power and support the grid at times when wind and solar power were unproductive.
De Brenni said the government wanted to be respectful of the landowners whose properties would have to be acquired for the project.
“The restarts that are involved in this are not significant in terms of their number and are commensurate with the other types of infrastructure…for example, significant road projects,” he said.