Next steps underway for pumped hydro energy project on Bells Mountain, north-east of Muswellbrook

TERRIFIC OPPORTUNITY: Muswellbrook Shire Council general manager Fiona Plesman in front of Bells Mountain, near McCullys Gap.
TERRIFIC OPPORTUNITY: Muswellbrook Shire Council general manager Fiona Plesman in front of Bells Mountain, near McCullys Gap.

“THIS is a good news story for the Upper Hunter, not just Muswellbrook,” says Muswellbrook Shire Council general manager Fiona Plesman.

After calling for Expressions of Interest on a significant Pumped Hydro Energy Storage (PHES) opportunity, council announced this week the preferred operator to take the project into the next phase of feasibility and development.

Ms Plesman said AGL Energy Ltd demonstrated the capacity and commitment to deliver the pumped hydro project and progress with a full feasibility assessment on Bells Mountain, near McCullys Gap.

AGL and Muswellbrook Coal owner Idemitsu confirmed, in May, they were working on a separate but linked proposal to use a mine void below the mountain for the lower section of a pumped hydro storage power plant.

“It’s the best use for a final void – post-mining – you can think of,” Ms Plesman explained.

Council played a key role in the identification and development of the proposed site as an economic development initiative in 2017.

Following a pre-feasibility report conducted by the University of Newcastle, council acquired an option for the land to further explore the initiative.

Pumped hydro energy storage is a hydroelectric storage system that utilises the gravitational potential of water.

In its simplest form it involves two reservoirs, one at a higher elevation to the other.

During periods of surplus electrical generation, electricity is used to pump water to the top reservoir.

At times of electrical energy deficit, water is released back down to the lower reservoir through turbines, generating electricity.

“Projects like this are central to council’s strategy to encourage investment from a broad range of industries and highlights the collaborative role of the energy sector to diversify their markets and embrace new opportunities,” Ms Plesman said.

She added pumped hydro storage was the largest-capacity form of grid energy storage in the world.

“The Bells Mountain site is considered a significant PHES opportunity because of its geography, scale and proximity to existing infrastructure,” he said.

“The Australian National University and the University of Newcastle assisted council with the identification and analysis of the site’s PHES potential.

“This is the first step in a process of feasibility involving a range of studies and assessments by AGL who will now take the project forward.

“AGL will provide further information about the project in coming months as studies progress.”

PHES is widely considered to be the future of energy storage in Australia.

The project has a potential to generate 250MW and create about 50 operational jobs.

Muswellbrook Shire Council looks forward to the development of this PHES project by AGL Energy Ltd.