May 22, 2024 | Local News

Borumba Pumped Hydro pledged before environmental approvals

Vivienne Wynter

State and federal governments have told the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) that Borumba Pumped Hydro will be operating by 2030, although environmental approvals are not in place.

Critics say it’s too early to include $14 billion Borumba Pumped Hydro in national energy and environmental planning when the project at Imbil, south of Gympie, does not yet have approval for exploratory works.

Ian Mackay PHOTO: Brea Martin

Conondale Range Committee President, Ian Mackay, said it was wrong to commit to the project before environmental assessments had been done.

‘It troubles me that commitments to AEMO and UNESCO were given before the full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and exploration stage,’ Mr Mackay said.

‘Matters of National Significance are involved but committing now puts the Federal Environment Minister in a corner.

‘Will assessment be compromised because the project is locked in?’

CAPTION: The Borumba Pumped Hydro project is south west of Noosa

Operators told to improve eco plan

Borumba Pumped Hydro’s exploratory works are currently paused while Queensland Hydro (QH), the company managing the project, responds to a ‘do over’ letter it received from the federal environment department.

In April last year, the Federal Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water wrote to QH asking the company to redo its draft plan to manage environmental impacts of the exploratory works.

The plan, called a Referral Report under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, details impacts Borumba Pumped Hydro could have on ecological communities and over 20 threatened or endangered species of flora and fauna.

Australian Lungfish. PHOTO: Gunther Schmida

These include the Australian Lungfish, Mary River turtle and Mary River Cod, species that stopped the proposed Traveston Dam, as well as Glossy Black Cockatoo, White-throated Snapping Turtle, Coxen’s Fig Parrot and Spotted-Tail Quoll.

Mary River Turtle. PHOTO: Gunther Schmida

The Referral Report states many species could lose habitat, be injured or killed by project works.

The report was less detailed about preventing or mitigating possible impacts which was one area where the federal government asked for more information.

Insufficient information

In the letter, the federal environment department told QH the first version of the Referral Report had ‘insufficient information’ to allow the Minister to approve the exploratory works.

The letter asks for ‘quantification’ of populations of threatened species and for QH to assess the effectiveness of methods used to lessen the impacts.

It asks for more information on the project’s possible impacts on water quality of Yabba Creek, the Mary River and the Great Sandy Strait Ramsar Wetland, saying ‘the department does not consider the site is hydrologically isolated from the waterways’ mentioned above.

Yabba Creek. PHOTO: Brea Martin

As this story is published, it’s over a year since the federal environment department wrote to QH requesting more information.

The Pineapple understands Queensland Hydro has not yet submitted the new Referral Report.

This is why some critics say it’s too early to be treating Borumba Pumped Hydro as a done deal.

In a submission to AEMO, the Mary River Catchment Coordinating Committee (MRCCC) says AEMO should not include Borumba Pumped Hydro in National Electricity Market plans ‘given that not even the preliminary exploration works for the project have been assessed or granted federal approval.’

Sunshine Coast Environment Council Advocacy and Engagement (SCEC) Manager Narelle McCarthy is also concerned by the commitments to AEMO and UNESCO.

‘Though we understand Borumba Pumped Hydro is an important component of the transition to renewable energy which means energy storage,’ Ms McCarthy said.

‘However, SCEC shares a level of discomfort that Borumba Pumped Hydro has been factored in to the extent it has.

‘When it’s described as a cornerstone project for emissions reduction that puts a fair bit of weight on it.’

Narelle McCarthy

Queensland Conservation Council Director Dave Copeman, said AEMO had to anticipate likely scenarios to give directions to the energy market.

‘If the Environmental Impact Study gets a no from the Federal Environment Minister, AEMO will take Borumba Pumped Hydro out of their forecast,’ Mr Copeman said.

‘The QCC believes any discussion around ecological impacts of a particular renewable energy project should be framed within the necessary transition to renewable energy Queensland must make.’

‘The greatest impacts on nature are from climate change. It’s not like we have a choice of options that impact the environment or not – we have to transition.’

Minister for Energy and Clean Economy Jobs, Mick de Brenni said Borumba Pumped Hydro was not the only AEMO listed project in the early stages.

“Many of the projects in the AEMO Integrated Systems Plan are at early stages of development or execution and are progressing through environmental assessments and approvals, just as this project is,’ said Minister de Brenni.

‘All informed authorities have high levels of confidence in the benefits of the project.’

Minister de Brenni

National Parks and state forests affected

Borumba Pumped Hydro’s project footprint is within Conondale National Park and borders on Wrattens National Park, but some conservation groups are relaxed about it.

Conondale NP. PHOTO supplied by NPAQ

National Parks Association of Queensland (NPAQ) CEO, Chris Thomas, is confident QH will do a good job managing environmental impacts.

‘As Conondale NP will be inundated slightly we are watching Borumba Pumped Hydro closely to ensure there is no net impact on the national parks,’ Mr Thomas said.

‘We are not overly concerned about the process to date because QH has been transparent and engaged. We agree on the predicted impacts and there is a live discussion about mitigating those impacts and/or offsetting.’

Chris Thomas

Imbil and Yabba State Forests also border on the project footprint and Mr Thomas said there was a proposal to merge the two state forests with Conondale National Park into a new, larger park possibly called Yabba National Park.

‘There could be a net benefit for national parks’, Mr Thomas said.

Affected landholders concerned

Glenda Pickersgill, an environmental scientist, grazier and representative of Save the Mary River Coordinating Group, has two properties affected by the proposed Borumba Pumped Hydro project.

‘My Kinbombi block has the transmission corridor cutting through the middle and my Amamoor property is on the banks of the Mary River,’ said Ms Pickersgill.

‘Governments are jumping the gun in their race to protect nature.

‘All options for energy storage including batteries, need to be carefully weighed up here.

‘There is a lot at stake for the Mary River catchment and our special threatened species and ecosystems,’ Ms Pickersgill said.

Glenda Pickersgill at her cattle property on the Mary River PHOTO Brea Martin

Feds have final say

The final decision on Borumba Pumped Hydro is up to Federal Minister for the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek.

Minister Plibersek’s spokeswoman said: ‘The department is awaiting further assessment information from Queensland Hydro on the Borumba Pumped Hydro Energy Storage Project – Exploratory Works.

‘Once the department receives the additional information, there will be an opportunity for the public to comment on the draft assessment documentation.

‘In making her decision on whether the project will go ahead, the Minister will consider the public comments received, as well as any expert advice and departmental advice to determine whether the project’s potential impacts are acceptable under national environment law.’

Queensland Hydro CEO Kieran Cusack wrote in Energy Magazine last month that QH ‘understands the proposed Borumba Project is in an area with ecological significance’.

‘As it progresses through each stage from environmental approvals to exploratory works to main works, we will work with community groups and other stakeholders who have local knowledge to seek their input as we plan the best ways to deliver environmental offsets from the outset.’

Kieran Cusack PHOTO: Queensland Hydro

MRCCC representative Steve Burgess says he’s still worried.

‘We all want to see the energy grid decarbonised but we shouldn’t be blinkered about proper process.

‘We’re not convinced the project will go ahead.

‘It’s recklessly irresponsible to make assurances the project will go ahead before exploratory works are done or approved.’

Steve Burgess PHOTO Brea Martin

 

PHOTO at top of story: Pumped Hydro graphic supplied by Queensland Hydro

 

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