Construction was delayed for months earlier this year when Florence, Snowy’s massive tunnel-boring machine, got stuck in soft rock beneath Kosciuszko National Park.
Snowy 2.0 is considered an important project in driving the shift to clean energy, as it can back up renewables when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. The scheme uses surplus electricity to pump water uphill and then releases it to spin turbines at times of high demand.
Bowen declined to comment but has previously said Snowy 2.0 is critical to the government’s pledge to more than double the amount of power the electricity grid sources from renewables to 82 per cent by 2030 – the main source of greenhouse cuts needed for its target of reducing emissions 43 per cent by the end of the decade.
Snowy 2.0 will bring the scheme’s total generation capacity to 375,000 megawatts, which can be pumped out for 175 hours, or an entire week. By comparison, Tesla’s big battery in South Australia can only supply 150 megawatts into the grid for 194 hours, or about 8 days.
Grattan Institute climate change and energy director Tony Wood, commenting on the potential for massive cost blowouts, said it raised questions about Snowy 2.0’s value for money.
He said the government must declare if it will stick with the megaproject or nominate an alternative to back up electricity supply as more renewables pour into the grid.
“There has always been a sound case for serious long-term energy storage like pumped hydro, and Snowy 2.0 has got a much better combination of megawatts and megawatt-hours than alternatives,” Wood said.
“The government could say Snowy 2.0 will cost this much, and it’s still worth doing at $12 billion. They could also say we’re not going to do it, and why, and what we are going to do instead.
“Or they could blame the previous government and say we are sitting down with [electricity grid operator] the Australian Energy Market Operator to understand what the consequences will be if we do or don’t go ahead and we will report back.”
The government could opt to double down on its support for the Battery of the Nation project, which will use the Marinus Link undersea cable to link Tasmanian hydroelectric dams to the eastern seaboard, or potentially boost gas-peaking plants and batteries.
The Victorian and NSW governments are nervous about energy security and the risks of blackouts as the grid is weaned off fossil fuels, with coal plants closing at a rapid rate as cheaper renewables come on the market.
Victoria has committed taxpayers’ dollars to cover the potential costs of keeping two of its largest coal plants operating until their expected closure dates, and NSW is considering subsidising Eraring, its biggest coal power plant.
NSW’s Liddell coal-fired generator closed in April and at least another seven of the remaining 14 coal plants on the eastern seaboard are due to shut within 12 years.
Power line projects in NSW and Victoria are being delayed by objections to projects such as HumeLink in NSW – which will link both states to Snowy 2.0, as well as the Western Renewables Link and VNI West in Victoria, which locals say will have negative impacts on property values, the environment and the landscape.
Cut through the noise of federal politics with news, views and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up to our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here.