Prime Minister Scott Morrison choppered over the Brindabellas on Tuesday to announce Snowy 2.0 has won Commonwealth environmental approval and “the thumbs-up, green light”, while emphasising his need for Eden-Monaro voters to support Liberal Party candidate Fiona Kotvojs in Saturday’s by-election.
“This is a nation-building day,” said the Prime Minister, describing Snowy 2.0 as “an absolutely barnstorming project,” providing over 2000 jobs directly in the local area and 4000 jobs over the course of the project.
“We’re building our way out of the Covid recession … the next two years will be absolutely critical,” he said.
“I need someone here on the ground… and that’s why I’m here with Fiona Kotvojs.”
The hotly contested by-election framed the day’s announcement, with Ms Kotvojs opening the press conference, telling journalists at Lobs Hole that the project is “all about environment and all about energy.”
The project has encountered stiff environmental criticism, with University of Canberra Associate Professor Mark Lintermans resigning his position as chair of the NSW threatened fishes committees after the NSW government approved the project at the end of May.
Federal Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley was on hand Tuesday to answer media questions about the threat to native species like the stocky galaxias from invasive species like the Redfin perch.
“Snowy will be investing $25 million in effectively netting the tunnels that lead to the Tantangara Reservoir in the incredibly unlikely event that pest fish could manage to come up the tunnel, into Tantangara and damage the natural environment for the stocky galaxias,” she said.
“We’ve got it covered.”
Ms Ley also pointed to a $5 million captive breeding program for the stocky galaxias which will be happening in a separately built weir.
Snowy Hydro CEO stressed his commitment to the environment within the Kosciuszko National Park, saying that through Snowy 2.0, new species have been discovered within the park, providing biologists with greater information about wildlife in the high country.
“This is our backyard, this is our environment … we’ve gone to extreme lengths … to not damage some of the really high country, the really sensitive part,” said CEO Paul Broad.
“We will leave this site such as it will be better than what it was before we came.
“The park is us, the park is who we are.”
As part of the approval, Snowy Hydro will invest almost $100 million in biodiversity and environmental enhancements, including establishing an offset fund of up to $73.8m through the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service to protect threatened species and deliver long-term conservation outcomes.
Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor said Snowy Hydro 2.0 is a vital project for the National Electricity Market.
“Snowy 2.0 will provide an additional 2,000 megawatts of fast-start, dispatchable energy and provide 350,000 megawatt hours of large-scale storage, enough to power the equivalent of 500,000 homes for over a week during peak demand,” Mr Taylor said.
When questioned about how the transmission costs will be paid for, Mr Taylor said the cost would be passed on to consumers, but the net result would be lower energy prices overall.
“It’s the same as all transmission projects,” he said, “Customers will pay for them, but customers only get them if they’re going to bring down the power price and make sure there’s reliability.
“The regulatory process is designed to ensure that investments don’t happen unless they’re good for customers.”
Tuesday’s announcement signals the final step in the planning and approvals phase of the project and “the beginning of a new wave of jobs and investment for the region, which will guarantee clean, affordable energy and position our country for the future,” the Prime Minister said.
The first power generated from Snowy 2.0 is expected in early 2025, followed by progressive commissioning of its six generating units.