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Analysis of the Snowy Mountain Hydropower Extension Plan

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Published: 23rd Sep 2019 in Environmental Sciences

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Analysis of the Snowy Mountain Hydropower Extension Plan 


Should the Australian government proceed with the Snowy Mountain hydropower extension plan?





The production and availability of energy is vital for the economic growth and development of any country including for agricultural, industrial and residential purposes[1] (figure 1.1).  Due to the increased demand for an energy supply in the last century, it was sourced primarily from fossil fuels, which ultimately resulted in the critical problem of global warning[2]. Thus, nations have invested in alternative renewable sources of energy to counteract this problem in the hopes of decreasing the rate of global emissions. Hydroelectric power is a form of renewable energy that generates electricity using the kinetic energy of running water.  This may come in the form of rain or melted snow, originating from mountains which create rivers that eventually run into the ocean[3].  It is considered renewable because the water cycle is constantly operated through the sun’s energy. Hydropower currently accounts 7% of total electricity in Australia (figure 1.2), as the construction of the Snowy Mountains scheme in 1972 being one of the most expansive projects globally.

FIGURE 1.1: Global anthropogenic GHG emissions

FIGURE 1.2: Energy generation across Australia     source: originenergy.com.au

This complex located at Kosciuszko National Park in New South Wales consists of sixteen major dams and had cost approximately 820 million for construction[4].  In March of 2017, the Turnbull government announced plans to expand this structure, known as ‘Snowy Hydro 2.0’[5].  Although having a local, renewable source of energy is advantageous to the Australian community, there are also disadvantages including the environmental impacts, effect on local industries and hefty costs to be considered.  Hence, a question can be asked as to whether ‘the Australian government should proceed with the Snowy Mountain hydropower extension?’



The law of conservation of energy states that the total energy of an isolated system remains constant; it is converted from one form to another over time[6] and is neither created nor destroyed. This concept applies to the mechanisms of hydropower, as it converts free energy into a useful form[7]. The general conversion is shown in the diagram below but some energy may be lost as heat, sound or other frictional forces.

As evident in figure 1.3 below, the potential energy of water falling from gravitational force such as rain is stored in the elevated reservoir, a structure containing a body of water behind a dam.  This stored energy is converted into kinetic energy as the control gate opens and water rapidly flows out of it.  It travels at great velocities down the penstock chute[8].  As water flows across the blade of the turbine, it causes them to have a spinning motion.  As these turbine blades are attached to the generator by a shaft, the kinetic energy of the moving water is converted into mechanical energy as the generator rotates[9] (figure 1.4). Water then exits via the draft tube into the river so that the turbine rotates under a constant pressure. 

FIGURE 1.4: Details of generator and turbine

FIGURE 1.3: Components of a hydro-plant


From the mechanical energy of the turbine, the electromagnetic generator produces electric energy when the shafts are in motion. On the rotor of this generator are attached numerous electromagnets, powered by an external DC current[10] (figure 1.5). This machine is based on the principle of ‘electromagnetic induction’, by scientist Michael Faraday[11].  The discovery was that if an electric conductor (e.g. copper wire) is moved through a magnetic field then a flow of electrical current will be produced. The mechanical energy of the moving copper wire is transformed into an electrical energy of the current that flows in the wire[12].   This is an example of Lenz’s law, which states that the induced current in a wire will be in such a direction that the magnetic field it creates will oppose the motion inducing the current.  This electricity produced is transferred to the power line which then carry the electricity from the station to the national grid[13].

FIGURE 1.5: Structure of the electromagnetic generator



The greatest advantage of the extension scheme is that hydropower is a renewable source of energy naturally powered by the water cycle (figure 1.6), and does not pollute the ecosystem like power plants that burn fossil fuels or coal[14]. ‘They can produce large amounts of energy on a continuous, reliable basis’ (Elliot, 2013). In an article, the National Geographic states that it is the ‘cheapest way to generate electricity today’ and also is ‘capable of converting 90% of the available energy into electricity’ (agric.gov.ab.ca). In comparison, the most efficient fossil fuel plants are only at 60% efficiency. Furthermore, the reservoirs of the power plant can assist in flood control during extreme weather and heavy rainfall[15].  It may also benefit the local communities by providing a water supply and a stimulus for economic growth, able to bring prosperity and growth to developing rural areas.

FIGURE 1.6: Diagram of the Hydrologic Cycle

 source: SAwater.com


The most detrimental effect of expanding the scheme is its environmental effects on the ecosystem.  Dams and reservoirs are known to impact on the local habitat and issues that arise include the blocking of fish passage[16].  This indefinitely affects native Australian flora, fauna and the species that habitat Kosciuszko National Park, posing a threat to the sustainability and protection of endangered organisms.  Furthermore, the cost of this expansion is approximated at 3-5 billion from the budget, not considering the additional maintenance expenditures[17]. The production of such a colossal structure is not free from hazards; if dam failures were to occur it would be catastrophic for both the environment and its inhabitants. These new reservoirs will permanently flood valleys that may have contained towns and farmland, thus forcing residents to relocate.  Another issue is that it is not free from greenhouse gas emissions as innumerable trucks and construction machines would be needed to build the immense complex[18].  Additionally, plant matter in flooded areas produce methane, another greenhouse gas that decays underwater and will contribute to global warning. The current estimate suggests that emissions of carbon dioxide and methane can be over 0.23 kg equivalent per kilowatt-hour[19].  Not only that, the energy production is reliable on the natural water variability and may be subject to inconsistent cycles.

FIGURE 1.7: Environmental effects of a hydro-plant


Conclusively, there are definitely advantages of expanding the Snowy Mountain hydropower scheme which include benefits to local communities, the national economy, and to assist the international problem of global warming. However, due to the extensive construction of the plan, there are also detriments which include impacts on the native ecosystem, possible hazards to the surrounding inhabitants and the immense cost of the project.  The overall significance of hydroelectricity is that it provides a renewable, sustainable source of free energy utilizing nature’s hydrologic cycle. To conclude, I believe that the expansion would be valuable to the Australian society, but needs to be constructed in an area with minimal effects on local communities.  Furthermore, I think that comprehensive considerations need to be deliberated regarding the safety and possible detriments of the scheme on Kosciuszko National Park.  ‘At the end of the day, the rivers and streams will remain modified but… should be healthier and have an ecological diversity and function which better satisfies a combination of environmental and social needs’ (Snowy Water Inquiry 1998, pg. 6).





“A Brief History Of Hydropower | International Hydropower Association”. Hydropower.org. Web. 29 May 2017.

Cassedy, Edward S. Prospects For Sustainable Energy. 2000. Print.

Elliott, David. Sustainable Energy. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. Print.

“Hydroelectricity – What Is Hydropower? – Origin Energy”. Originenergy.com.au. Web. 5 June 2017.

“Environmental Impacts Of Hydroelectric Power”. Union of Concerned Scientists. N.p., 2015. Web. 12 June 2017.

Ferry, David K. Semiconductors. 1991. Print.

“Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data | US EPA”. US EPA. Web. 7 June 2017.

“Hydroelectric Energy – How Hydroelectricity Works | Turbinegenerator”. TurbineGenerator. N.p., 2017. Web. 2 June 2017.

“Hydro-Electricity”. EDF Energy. Web. 1 June 2017.

“Hydropower”. Nationalgeographic.com. Web. 28 May 2017.

“Hydropower – Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA)”. Australian Renewable Energy Agency. N.p., 2017. Web. 4 June 2017.

Pigram, John J. J. Australia’s Water Resources. Collingwood, Vic.: CSIRO Pub., 2007. Print.

“PM Announces $2B Scheme To Supercharge Snowy Hydro”. ABC News. N.p., 2017. Web. 27 May 2017.

“Power Needs Put Under The Pump”. Adelaidenow.com.au. N.p., 2017. Web. 23 May 2017.

Schlager, Neil, and Jayne Weisblatt. Alternative Energy. Detroit: UXL, 2006. Print.

“The Snowy Mountains Scheme | Australia.Gov.Au”. Australia.gov.au. Web. 30 May 2017.

“What Happened To Snowy Hydro?”. Heraldsun.com.au. N.p., 2017. Web. 22 May 2017.













Required content of the Information Search and Analysis

Source type: Book

Information source:

Pigram, John J. J. Australia’s Water Resources. Collingwood, Vic.: CSIRO Pub., 2007. Print.

Key points:

  • Details Australia’s water resources- location, availability and uses
  • Brief explanation of the hydrologic cycle
  • 1972 Snowy Mountain scheme
  • Summary of the infrastructure, costs and maintenance



  • Highly relevant as it considers both the advantages and disadvantages of the scheme and how it would be beneficial to society
  • Comparison with international plans
  • Gives historical background and context
  • About Australia’s hydro-plants- is a national source
  • Published in 2007, does not discuss the new scheme



  • Both advantages and disadvantages considered, hence not very biased
  • Author is slightly biased as more information is given about the advantages and uses of hydropower in specific detail. 


  • Author is a professor and specializes in the field of water policy research for 40 years
  • CSIRO published- a very credible, national research organization
  • Works at the center for Ecological Economics and Water Policy Research, University of New England
  • Very credible source




















Required content of the Information Search and Analysis

Source type: online article

Information source:

“Environmental Impacts of Hydroelectric Power”. Union of Concerned Scientists. N.p., 2015. Web. 5 June 2017.

Key points:

  • Discusses the detriment of the construction and maintenance of a hydro-plant on the environment, local inhabitants and species
  • Describes in detail the consequences and the likelihood of its occurrence
  • Provides a real-life model of a hydro-plant with negative impacts



  • Moderately relevant but only useful for the disadvantages section
  • Very briefly discusses the benefits of hydropower as an electricity generator
  • Summarizes in-depth the consequences and negative effects



  • Biased against hydropower as it only discusses the consequences
  • Only useful for the disadvantages section of the report but not for the collective argument


  • Company- does not state an author
  •  States reliable sources such as: The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change (2011)
  • No publication date
  • States collaboration with physicists, ecologists, engineers and energy analysts.





[1] Hydropower- Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA)

[2] Australian Bureau of Statistics, abs.gov.au

[3] Pigram, John, Australia’s Water Resources, 2007

[4] “The Snowy Mountains Scheme | Australia.Gov.Au

[5] “PM Announces $2B Scheme to Supercharge Snowy Hydro” |abcnews.com

[6] Conservation Of Energy, Grc.nasa.gov

[7] Schlager and Weisblatt, 2006

[8] “Hydroelectric Energy – How Hydroelectricity Works | Turbinegenerator”

[9] Pigram, 2007

[10] “Hydroelectric Energy – How Hydroelectricity Works | Turbinegenerator”

[11] “A Brief History of Hydropower | International Hydropower Association”

[12] Ferry, 1991

[13] Elliott, 2010

[14] Hydroelectricity – Origin Energy”. Originenergy.com.au.

[15] Pigram, 2007

[16] Elliott, 2010

[17] “Power Needs Put Under The Pump”, Adelaidenow.com.au

[18] “Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data | US EPA”

[19] “Environmental Impacts of Hydroelectric Power”- Union of concerned scientists


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