Mine rehabilitation option the Valley’s ‘silver bullet’?

CONVERTING exhausted Latrobe Valley open cut coal mines to pumped hydroelectricity storage facilities could be the “silver bullet” answer for mine rehabilitation and renewable energy production.

As the reopened Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry considers mine rehabilitation options and with Anglesea Power Station and mine set to close, a Melbourne Energy Institute report has suggested brown coal pits could be converted to hydroelectric facilities (PHES).

MEI Energy advisor Tim Forcey spoke of the areal extent of the region’s coal mines.

Dr Forcey said the 130 metre elevation difference between Hazelwood coal mine and associated Hazelwood Cooling Pondage would allow for a world-class PHES facility capable of 1000 megawatts.

The technology used overseas since the 1890s, stores energy by pumping water from a lower reservoir to a second reservoir at a higher elevation and passing water through an electricity-generating turbine before returning water to the lower reservoir.

Dr Forcey said the region’s brown coal mines were as deep as 60 metres below sea level, forming the deepest open-air points in Victoria and possibly Australia.

He said a Latrobe Valley PHES facility would also have competitive advantage over Queensland projects, sitting adjacent to major electricity transmission lines.

“We don’t have the volatility in the electricity market to pay for it right now, otherwise somebody would already be onto it,” Dr Forcey said.

“The question is, would we need it in droughts and if coal plants do close?”

Latrobe Valley Sustainability Group member Dan Caffrey said hydroelectricity could be ‘turned on and off’ when needed, addressing concerns of renewable energy’s ability to deal with peak electricity demand.

“That’s the biggest problem to overcome, wind not blowing when you want it, sunshine not shining when you want it to, with this you’ve got a big source of power that can allow for those peaks in demand,” Mr Caffrey said.

He said the concept should be part of the discussion when considering mine rehabilitation, as a way to address coal mine fire risk, and perpetuating the Latrobe Valley’s power generation sector.

“This could have an immense future, we’re killing two birds with one stone and getting dollars for having a hole in the ground,” Mr Caffrey said.

Environment Victoria safe climate campaign manager Nicholas Aberle, who issued a report into the rehabilitation of Hazelwood coal mine last year, said a big part of the Inquiry was considering the future use of coal mines.

“It’s about making sure that fire risk is mitigated, but there could be multiple purposes to rehabilitation,” Dr Aberle said.

“It doesn’t make sense for mines to just be converted into lakes if it’s not what the community wants.”