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The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) is providing $951,000 to fund a pumped hydro energy storage (PHES) study in the New England Renewable Energy Zone. 

Oven Mountain Pumped Storage (OMPS) will undertake the study in partnership with Alinta Energy at Oven Mountain, near Armidale and Kempsey in Northern New South Wales.

The $2.2 million study will determine how the proposed 600MW/7200MWh pumped hydro facility at Oven Mountain could support system strength in Queensland and northern New South Wales by storing and enabling renewable energy generation.

The study will examine if the proposed PHES project would unlock further energy investment in the New England region. If proven feasible, it is estimated the project would generate approximately 600-1000 construction jobs and 30 ongoing jobs once the plant is completed and commissioned.

Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, said pumped hydro provides reliable, secure and affordable energy, and complements the unprecedented wave of investment in renewable energy.

“Pumped hydro projects like Oven Mountain can help to firm up and balance the grid as increased levels of intermittent renewable energy generation such as wind and solar come online,” Mr Taylor said.

“This project is part of the Government’s ongoing commitment to deliver more reliable and affordable electricity while securing our future energy needs.”

Federal Member for New England, Barnaby Joyce, said the scheme would complement existing renewable power generators in the New England area.

“We’ve made massive investments in New England into renewable energy, in fact we’re one of the biggest renewable energy hubs in Australia,” Mr Joyce said.

As part of the NSW Transmission Infrastructure Strategy, the NSW Government will prioritise the New England region as one of three renewable energy zones. 

Renewable Energy Zones (REZ) are areas with high energy potential where planned transmission infrastructure upgrades are able to connect multiple projects at lower cost.

The proposed Oven Mountain site is an ideal location for PHES due to its steep topography, high hydrological head and the short distance between two reservoirs. 

If built, the proposed PHES plant could provide system strength to the wind and solar farms in the New England area, provide rapid grid power response and meet requirements during peak demand.

AEMO’s Draft 2020 Integrated System Plan forecasted Australia’s generation to be dominated by large-scale solar PV and wind by 2040, which requires new flexible and dispatchable technologies to ensure Australians have access to reliable electricity when and where it is needed. PHES can help to play a vital part with large amounts of storage capacity.

ARENA CEO, Darren Miller, said this study will help to provide vital knowledge on the positive impacts pumped hydro can provide in the development of REZs.

“Pumped hydro projects like Oven Mountain can play a key role in the provision of firming up and balancing the grid as increased levels of variable renewable energy generation such as wind and solar come online.

“Renewable Energy Zones like New England are sunny and windy areas with natural renewable energy resources, but they may be in weak areas of the grid. Pumped hydro can provide system security services like frequency and voltage support and it can provide bulk energy storage to help meet the evening peak.” 

OMPS Director, Dr Jeremy Moon, said the New England REZ “sits close to the border of NSW and Queensland, and its abundance of renewable resources places it strategically between the two states.”

“Pumped hydro technology evolution can support Australia’s generation transition. With its natural high hydrological head over a distance of around two kilometres, the Oven Mountain site allows for highly responsive synchronous machines to provide grid stability services that have traditionally been provided by fossil fuel generation.

“We are excited for the opportunity to work with ARENA to demonstrate how pumped hydro can provide large scale storage and support the New England Renewable Energy Zone, networks, system security and increasing levels of low cost, dispatchable power.”

Alinta Energy Executive Director of Merchant Energy. Ken Woolley, said, “What we really like about this project is its potential to pair with low cost renewables and help us deliver more affordable and reliable energy for our customers.”

Separate to this project, the Government has shortlisted six pumped hydro projects through the Underwriting New Generation Investments program which is designed to deliver affordable and reliable power.

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