Prime Minister Scott Morrison will turn to one of Malcolm Turnbull’s signature projects with an investment of up to $1.38 billion to expand the Snowy Hydro electricity scheme.
Making the funding announcement on Tuesday, Mr Morrison sported a “Let’s Get Pumped” he’d been given as he visited one of the Snowy Hydro’s stations in the NSW town of Talbingo.
“Lower emissions, lower prices and reliability: That’s what I’m looking for,” he said.
“It is absolutely fair dinkum power. It doesn’t get more fair dinkum than this.”
Snowy 2.0 – as the engineering project was dubbed by former prime minister Turnbull – involves building a new underground power station in a remote corner of the Snowy Mountains.
The initiative was first mooted in 2017 by Mr Turnbull, who was deposed by Mr Morrison in a Liberal Party spill in August 2018 for pushing for action on climate change.
Snowy 2.0 was initially estimated to cost $2 billion, but Snowy Hydro CEO Paul Broad has previously said the price tag could rise to between $3.8 billion and $4.5 billion.
In tiny and remote Tumut on Tuesday, Mr Morrison was flanked by Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, Energy Minister Angus Taylor and Environment Minister Melissa Price to announce the Commonwealth will stump up $1.38 billion for the expansion.
The Coalition quartet took a helicopter into the remote Snowy Hydro site as Mr Broad showed them the rolling bushland area where the tunnels will be built.
There was a sense of melancholy from Mr Taylor, who said he had stood in the same spot more than 40 years ago alongside his grandfather Sir William Hudson, the chief engineer for the original Snowy scheme.
Once complete in 2024, Snowy 2.0 will produce 2000 megawatts of energy that Mr Morrison said could bolster the east coast’s power supply and provide reliable generation.
“If you want to transition over time to a renewable future for energy, you cannot do it without stations like this,” he said.
The work is also expected to transform the neighbouring sleepy town of Tumut. Its population of 300 is set to soar in response to thousands of jobs.
Mr Turnbull took to Twitter to say how delighted he was to see his pet project given the go-ahead.
Very pleased to see Snowy 2.0 being given the green light by @ScottMorrisonMP The project makes renewables reliable and is the key to a lower emission, more affordable and reliable energy future. It will reduce price peaks in the energy market and thus reduce energy costs.
— Malcolm Turnbull (@TurnbullMalcolm) February 25, 2019
But critics of Snowy 2.0 say energy consumers will be burdened by the costs of expensive transmission upgrades and that the government has failed to adequately assess alternative options.
Pumped hydro works by using cheap electricity – usually at night – to pump water back up a hill and into the dam, where it is stored until energy demands start to peak during the day.
“Snowy has unrivalled capacity to store power when it is not needed, and generate it when it is needed,” Mr Taylor said.
So far it has been the government’s environment week.
With multiple independent candidates popping up to go head to head with government MPs on climate policy at the next election, the coalition is attempting to flex its environmental muscles.
On Monday, Mr Morrison announced a $2 billion top up over the next decade to the Emissions Reduction Fund – rebranded as the Climate Solutions Fund – and $56 million for another transmission link between Tasmania and the mainland.
Mr Morrison has also flagged a future announcement about an electric vehicles strategy.