THE community group fighting a proposed pumped hydro project near Yetholme says the company behind it has chosen the location partly because it is the lowest cost of various options.
ATCO executive general manager of business development Ben Bolot told the Western Advocate recently that what made the Yetholme site suitable included its proximity to transmission lines; the fact it is on private land; has the right level of "head" between the upper reservoir and the lower reservoir; and is close to urban areas, so services can be provided once the project gets up and running.
The Friends of the Fish River, though, pointed to the scoping report for the pumped hydro project, which says, under the heading of "site selection", that ATCO has "undertaken a complete multidisciplinary search for the lowest cost, first to market pumped hydro prospects in NSW" and concluded that the Yetholme project "best meets these criteria".
The scoping report does go on to say, however, that the project "takes advantage of natural conditions and has been located to ensure the project can be developed to minimise impacts to the environment, known heritage, existing land use, and the community".
Friends of the Fish River, which launched an electronic petition against the project in mid-August, also pointed to the scoping report saying there were 42 endangered species of plants and animals that had the potential to be at the site, but said the report "failed to mention the major extent of damage the project will cause".
The community group also says ATCO has "refused to confirm that only renewable energy would be used to power the project - it could well be coal powered for the first 17 years".
Friends of the Fish River also says the Yetholme project is not in one of the state's Renewable Energy Zones (REZ) and "so does not fit with government policy".
On that point, ATCO says pumped hydro "needs to be built where it has access to suitable resources, such as topography, rock formations, transmission system access and water" and "needs to be built in a location that will support the stability of the transmission network".
ATCO says that having a storage facility such as the Yetholme pumped hydro project between the "REZs and our big cities helps to stabilise the network, so the electrical transmission grid operates efficiently and without interruptions".
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Friends of the Fish River says the site that is proposed to host the pumped hydro project's bottom dam "is full of thousands of mature native trees".
Mr Bolot told the Western Advocate recently that the bottom reservoir would be built on "highly degraded land" that can't be farmed, but Friends of the Fish River says this land "is a uniquely significant ecosystem, which makes it irreplaceable" and "the hydro project would most certainly destroy the known platypus population, amongst many of the other endangered and at peril species".
Mr Bolot also told the Western Advocate that ATCO had "identified a way of filling the upper reservoir [at the top of Mount Tennyson] using natural flows from the Fish River, but only when the flows are sufficient to do so".
Friends of the Fish River says, however, that the Fish River supplies a significant part of Bathurst's drinking water and does not flow during dry summers.
"Things were so dire for Bathurst's drinking water in recent years that they sought to obtain additional water for drinking from Oberon Dam (but were knocked back by Water NSW)," Friends of the Fish River said.