I have written to the Deputy Prime Minister, the Hon Barnaby Joyce MP, requesting that the Australian Government support an updated feasibility study for the Tully Millstream Hydroelectric Scheme (TMHS), north-west of Tully, in North Queensland. I strongly believe this project has great merit. A serious feasibility study has not been undertaken since the late 1980s.
The Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation (SMEC) undertook a full technical study, which was completed in 1988. Sadly, the declaration of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area (in which the project would be partially located) in late 1988 by the Commonwealth Government, resulted in the scheme not being progressed, due to perceived environmental concerns.
Ever since the declaration of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area derailed the TMHS, there has been a deep and sustained level of resentment in North Queensland, that the region was robbed of a major piece of economic infrastructure and the benefits that would have flowed from it. Residents from across North Queensland still regularly express their strong support for the TMHS.
Being born and raised in Tully and having represented the region in the Queensland Parliament since 2006, I can testify to the ongoing and abiding frustration of the community, especially given the declaration also resulted in the demise of our local timber industry. I believe the people of North Queensland certainly deserve to have this important project re-examined on its merits.
NOT JUST ANOTHER FEASABILITY STUDY
This process is proposed to be an updating, or modernisation, of the feasibility study of the proposed TMHS. As, such, this request for resources is not for ‘just another feasibility study’. The passage of almost three decades means there are a number of issues which need to be re-assessed, to allow for the project to be properly evaluated. These include:
- Contemporary construction and hydro turbine standards;
- Contemporary environmental regulatory parameters;
- How the project would interact with the current national electricity market;
- How the project would interact with current electricity demand trends;
- How the project would interact with current electricity transmission infrastructure;
- Options for technical variations, or variations in scale or scope of the original scheme;
- Potential opportunities for irrigated agriculture, tourism and recreation; and,
- An updated estimate of base case costings.
The TMHS involves creek diversions from the Tully and Herbert River basins into two new dams (Wooroora and Nitchaga). The 600 megawatt station would be constructed underground between Koombooloomba Dam and the Tully River. The reliability of rainfall in the Tully region and the elevation of the site combine to provide a sound technical proposition for a hydroelectricity project.
- The Australian Government has a stated commitment to developing Northern Australia, as well as a structured policy framework and allocated funds in furtherance of this goal.
- The Australian Government has demonstrated a commitment to hydroelectricity, by recently announcing a feasibility study to expand the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectricity Scheme.
- The environmental debate regarding climate change has shifted from the protection of trees to carbon emissions, in particular, shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
SOME FACTS ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENTAL FOOTPRINT
- The declared Wet Tropics World Heritage Area covers some 900,000 hectares of north-eastern Queensland.
- The new water storages would inundate 4,300 hectares of land, but only 1,290 hectares of this land would be located within the declared Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.
- This is less than 0.2 per cent of the overall Wet Tropics World Heritage Area and could hardly be described as having a catastrophic impact on the future of the declared area.
COLLABORATION WITH SMEC
Earlier this year, I approached SMEC to ascertain its interest in updating the feasibility study for the TMHS. SMEC responded enthusiastically and utilised the comprehensive 11 volume engineering study it completed in 1988, to prepare a feasibility review document. SMEC is well positioned to undertake the work proposed in the feasibility review document.
OTHER MATTERS AND CONCLUSION
The TMHS project has the potential to create opportunities for irrigated agriculture on the Tully River, regional tourism operators and products and recreational activities for local residents. The ancillary benefits and opportunities that could be created by the proposed TMHS being constructed are not insignificant and should not be underestimated.
I am a long term supporter of the TMHS – a true believer. As a North Queenslander and a North Queensland MP, I have waited a long time for the policy agenda to suit a serious proposal to revive the TMHS. I believe that time is now. Another generation of North Queenslanders should not be denied the opportunity to benefit from this major piece of economic infrastructure.