THE community group opposed to a proposed pumped hydro project near Yetholme has described as "almost unconscionable" the NSW Government's decision to give the project a $9.44 million grant.
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NSW Treasurer Matt Kean announced last Friday morning that the Yetholme proposal was one of five pumped hydro projects that would receive a total of almost $45 million in recoverable grants to "support pre-investment activities, establish project feasibility and develop a strategic business case".
The money will need to be paid back to the government if the project reaches "financial close", according to Mr Kean.
"It is almost unconscionable that the NSW Government ... would throw $9.4 million of taxpayers' money to foreign-owned company ATCO so that they can lock away one whole year of Bathurst's water supply forever, and then keep taking one to two months of our water every year after that," the Friends of the Fish River group said in a statement provided to the Western Advocate.
"Additionally, our government then pays more taxpayer money to buy back water for the Murray-Darling Basin (the very water system our river feeds), despite having reduced the amount of water available by letting ATCO have it first.
"Our government does very strange things with taxpayer dollars."
The proposed pumped hydro plant would need an initial 3.3 gigalitres from the Fish River (which joins the Campbells River outside Bathurst to form the Macquarie) and 400 megalitres annually to account for evaporation and seepage.
ATCO - a global company based in Canada that has been operating in Australia for about 65 years - says it has identified a way of filling the upper reservoir using natural flows from the Fish River, but only when the flows are sufficient to do so.
ATCO's executive general manager of business development Ben Bolot has told the Advocate previously that the NSW Government issues Special Purpose Access Licences (SPAL) for pumped hydro projects and those licences "work within the Murray-Darling water allocation system, so they're not taking rights from other people; it's actually part of the allocation that's already in the system".
He has also said the 3.3 gigalitres of water would be taken over an extended period.
The Friends of the Fish River also said Australia "is in the midst of a wildlife extinction crisis" and accused Mr Kean of seeming happy "to be complicit in destroying" the endangered and threatened species at the site of the proposed Yetholme project and to "cause incredibly significant environmental damage just so that this project can provide a mere 0.0006 per cent of Australia's energy needs".
ATCO has previously told the Advocate that the project's bottom reservoir would be built on "highly degraded land" and that ATCO would have to overcompensate for any ecological impact from the construction of the project.
Member for Bathurst and Deputy Premier Paul Toole has told the Advocate that he will be making sure concerns about the Yetholme project are heard "loud and clear".
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