Pioneer-Burdekin must deliver for nature and communities

In 2022, the Queensland Government announced the Queensland Energy and Jobs Plan (QEJP), a long-awaited plan to phase down and replace the State's coal-fired power stations with renewable energy backed by storage.

As a part of the QEJP, the Queensland Government announced its preference for developing the Pioneer Burdekin pumped hydro project west of Mackay as a major storage solution helping underpin the reliability of Queensland's future energy system.

If built, this will be the largest pumped hydro project in the world at a staggering 5 GW capacity - for context Queensland’s largest coal-fired power station has a capacity of 1.7 GW. Saying that it's an ambitious project is an understatement.

Storage is a critical component of a renewable energy system to ensure that we have access to affordable renewable energy at all times of the day. We will need many types of storage, including household, community and large-scale batteries, electric vehicles and pumped hydro. Batteries are great for reacting with lightning speed to grid disturbances and shifting solar energy to be used at the evening peak, but we need long duration storage like pumped hydro as well to maintain system reliability.

Pumped hydro is distinct from 'hydro'; hydro generates electricity from flowing water whereas pumped hydro acts like a big water battery that requires energy at some times and generates energy at other times. The water requirements for pumped hydro are much smaller as it can operate similarly to a closed loop system.

The Pioneer Burdekin project will require three large dams to be built, two upper and one lower reservoir. These dams are proposed adjacent to the Eungella National Park. We acknowledge and share concerns that have been raised about the project, including potential environmental impacts on precious and unique areas and species, such as the platypus, and the impacts on residents in Netherdale, Dalrymple Heights and other surrounding communities.

The project needs to be thoroughly assessed under all the relevant state and federal environment laws before it proceeds, including the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. We remain committed to working with Queensland Hydro, who are tasked with progressing the project, and the local community to improve community engagement, and to make sure local residents and environment groups are genuinely involved in shaping the project.

QCC recognises the immense environmental values of Eungella and is committed to ensuring that the project will not have unacceptable impacts on the National Park and the platypus populations that make the park famous. As a result, we advocate strongly for any project in the area to be situated further away from the National Park boundaries to protect the wildlife that call it home.

Queensland Hydro are currently carrying out detailed technical investigations to determine Pioneer Burdekin's viability and detailed design; these include environmental, social and cultural heritage assessments.

These investigations need to be undertaken so the project can be properly assessed. This assessment will include referral to the national Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act for assessment, where it should be assessed as a controlled action.

We do not believe that the Federal Minister's intervention now would bring any further clarity to the environmental impacts, or be able to accelerate the gathering of the necessary environmental information.

QCC is working with the Mackay Conservation Group and paying close attention to the progress on the Pioneer Burdekin project. We will continue to work with the State Government and Queensland Hydro to pursue a genuinely nature positive energy transformation: and that means making sure that the renewable energy roll out is held to the highest possible environmental and community standards.

At this point, there is not enough information on the project, including its impact on the local environment and community, to make an informed judgement. We continue to ask the Queensland Government for full transparency as the project moves through the development pipeline and remain committed to advocating for best practice community consultation and environmental protection.

Image  CC BY-SA 4.0 by Lucas.G