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    Energy rich present our gift to the future

    March 20, 2023 - Mercury


      FUTURE TASMANIA JUST over a century ago, Tasmanian homes were lit by flickering candles and the streets were bathed in the glow of kerosene lamps.

      Today, that part of our history could hardly seem more remote. William Wordsworth once wrote: “Let us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present to live better in the future.” In other words, if we are to look clear-eyed to the horizon, we must first take stock of all that has come before.

      Tasmania is now the first state in Australia to have achieved 100 per cent of our electricity generation from renewable sources.

      And it all started with hydro power.

      The first publicly owned hydro-electric plant in the southern hemisphere was the Duck Reach Power Station in Launceston, established in 1895 and owned by the Launceston Municipal Council.

      But it wasn’t until 1914, on the eve of World War I, that Tasmania’s electricity revolution truly kicked off.

      It was then that the Hydro-Electric Commission (HEC) was established and the state’s ambitious hydro power construction program began in earnest.

      Pioneering men ventured into the state’s rugged and unforgiving interior, battling cold and wet conditions to carve out dams and power stations, as well as tramways and roads and the hydro villages in which the workers and their families lived.

      “Bringing electricity to Tasmania was a massive undertaking and an Australian-first,” Hydro Tasmania executive general manager of people culture and engagement Ruth Groom said.

      “No other state or territory at the time had a public energy-generating enterprise.” In 1916, the HEC’s first power station at Waddamana in the Central Highlands began generating electricity powered by yingina/Great Lake.

      By the 1920s, farms, mills, mines and factories were electrified, transforming their operations. Subsequently, the lives of everyday Tasmanians were changed when their homes were powered by electricity.

      Historian Jillian Koshin, a biographer of former Tasmanian premier Eric Reece, the man indelibly associated with the hydro-industrialisation of the state, said successive state governments supported the development of the hydro schemes because they believed they would “support the growth of industry”.

      “The state set out to attract large industries by advertising cheap power and, from the end of the Great War in 1918, a readily available workforce,” she said.

      “As the construction of hydro dams expanded through the 1930s, and especially the 1950s and 1960s, it coincided with post-war reconstruction policies of social improvement [and] full employment … and so in Tasmania hydro-industrialisation became inextricably linked with those policies.” Many of the hydro workers had migrated from Europe, displaced by war and harsh economic conditions.

      Some of these people formed multi-generational hydro families, with their ancestors continuing to work for Hydro Tasmania to this day.

      As the construction of the hydro schemes ramped up in the 1950s and ’60s, a growing environmental consciousness began to take root in the community and came into full bloom during the campaign to stop the inundation of Lake Pedder for the establishment of the Gordon dam in the early 1970s. The conflict between conservationists and the HEC reached a remarkable climax in the following decade, when the proposed Franklin-below-Gordon Dam was ruled unlawful by the High Court.

      It signalled the end of the state’s hydro-industrialisation program. The last hydro-electric power station was built in western Tasmania in 1993, named Tribute Power Station, in honour of the workers who sacrificed their lives to build the hydro schemes.

      By that point, Tasmania boasted 30 hydro power stations and 54 major dams in its high-rainfall catchments.

      “Both natural and constructed waterways are linked together and flow through mighty turbines to generate clean renewable energy for Tasmania, to power our homes and businesses,” Ms Groom said.

      “With that legacy of over 100 years of operation, Hydro Tasmania invests heavily each year to modernise our hydropower fleet to best serve Tasmania today and for future generations.” In the wake of its colossal dam-building program, the HEC established the Basslink undersea power cable, linking Tasmania to Victoria, and has invested in wind farms at Woolnorth, Musselroe and on King Island.

      The enterprise was disaggregated in 1998, separated into three government-owned businesses: Hydro Tasmania for electricity generation, TasNetworks for transmission and distribution, and Aurora Energy for energy retail.

      And now we come to the present day, where the $3bn Marinus Link interconnector cable – set to be the biggest infrastructure project in the state’s history – is dominating public debate.

      It comes as Hydro is busy developing its Battery of the Nation initiative, designed to supercharge Tasmania’s hydropower capacity through the possible redevelopment of the Tarraleah hydro scheme as well as a pumped hydro project at Lake Cethana.

      “The 20th century created a foundation of clean, renewable energy for Tasmania. Tasmania is ahead of the game in Australia’s energy transition,” Ms Groom said.

      Hydro Tasmania CEO Ian Brooksbank said the organisation stood “on the cusp of an exciting new era in [our] proud history”.

      “Upgrades to our existing power stations, innovative solutions such as pumped hydro, and the promise of greater interconnection through Marinus Link, all mean we can provide the ‘on-demand’ renewable electricity required in a future, decarbonised national economy,” he said.

      Long gone are the days of candles and kerosene lamps.

      The boundless and endlessly varied possibilities of the future are beckoning – some of them still imperceptible. We are the clean, green state. Now we must decide how best to capitalise on our strengths and live better in the future.


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