£200 Million Power Scheme Development and Defence

(From our special representative.)

10 June 1949 Cairns Post (Qld.)

Canberra, May 27.—On Wednesday the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Nelson Lemmon) introduced a Bill setting up a Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority under the defence powers of the Commonwealth, and on Thursday he made his second reading speech on it.

Comparable with the great Tennessee Valley scheme, it is the greatest Public Works undertaking ever entered upon in Australia.

The plan envisages the location underground of sixteen power stations, scattered miles apart in inaccessible mountain country, virtually safe from any attack, and the whole scheme, when completed, is estimated to run into an expenditure of £170,000,000 and £200,000,000.

Great Potential Output  

"The potential output of this great scheme, "Mr. Lemmon said," represents in coal 4,000,000 tons a year, or approximately one third of our present output.

This means that if we desired to produce electricity through steam stations fired by coal it would take 4,000,000 tons of our best black New South Wales coal.

If we desired to produce the same amount of electricity by the use of fuel oil it would take 1,500,000 gallons of oil a day, or 547,000,000 many thousands of men to mine and transport the coal required for their operation.

In the case of the Snowy Mountains scheme, with power stations located underground -sixteen of them - the gallons per year.

"This indicates the enormous wealth which is waiting to be harnessed from the snow-capped mountains of Kosciusko. It should also indicate, should this nation be faced with the threat of war, what a great assistance this steady flowing amount of electrical energy would be to the industrial effort of the nation.

The Government therefore proposes to set up immediately an Authority under its Defence powers to carry out this most important national work.

"It is found that the requirements of power for its munition factories and laboratories, and its defence research installations, even in time of peace, are now reaching very high figures. In time of war the power requirements for defence will be so great that they will be in excess, it is computed, of even the whole of the power that can be produced by this great scheme.

"Furthermore, attention is drawn to the vulnerable nature of most of our present major power stations, which, are located—and   because of economical reasons must be located near the coast. 

They require also the labour of operation of these stations will   require but a handful of men to produce their full capacity in times of emergency.

From the point of view of defence these matters are of the greatest significance."  

General Development Purposes

In time of peace, said the Minister, power not required for defence purposes could be made   available not only to the Australian Capital Territory, but to the power grids of New South Wales and Victoria for normal industrial purposes.

After the water has passed through the turbines it will flow inland, where the irrigation authorities can utilise it for the purposes of food production with comparatively small expenditure, as the whole of the costs of diversion and much of the cost of regulation will automatically be met by the sale of electricity.

This, in itself, will be an enormous undertaking, for it is estimated that the scheme will make available an additional 1,800,000 acre feet of water - approximately, three to four times the amount which is at present used by the Leeton Griffith irrigation area.

Many different proposals have been considered from time to time, but the scheme as finally recommended to the meeting of Commonwealth and State Ministers in February of this year is much more comprehensive than any previously suggested.

It involves the use of the waters of the Tumut and Tooma rivers, as well as the Murrumbidgee, Murray and Snowy rivers.

It envisages the diversion of 235,000 acre feet annually from the Snowy into the Tumut which is a tributary of the Murrumbidgee, and also the diversion of 334,000 acre feet a year from the Tooma, a tributary of the Murray, into the Tumut, thence to the Murrumbidgee.

The result of these two diversions will be that the Murrumbidgee will gain 569,000 acre feet per annum - about two-thirds of the average annual flow of the Snowy River.

To make up for the loss of the Tooma waters at least one-third of the Snowy will have to be diverted to the Murray. 

Further investigation into this aspect is now being made and a report on it is expected before the end of June.    

Commonwealth and State Ministers were unanimous in agreeing to the proposals advanced for the use of the two-thirds of the Snowy waters and have agreed to the preliminary work being put in hand pending a decision as to the final third.

If this third is diverted to the Murray the power output is estimated to amount to 1,720,000 K.W., which is nearly as much as all the power stations in Australia can produce to-day.

Comparison with Tennessee Valley  

The estimate in regard to the Snowy had been made on a conservative basis, Mr. Lemmon said, and he had no doubt that as the scheme progressed by the harnessing of smaller streams we would have a greater installed output of hydro-electric power than that of the Tennessee Valley Authority, which amounted to 2,056,000 K.W. 

The Snowy's estimated output of K.W. hours is 6,950 millions as against the Tennessee Valley's of  9,707 millions," he said.

I make this explanation because I have seen some people making a comparison of the two schemes but quoting K.W. hours of the T.V.A. against installed K.W. power at the Snowy, as it must be remembered that with a normal load factor of approximately 46 per cent. (which is the load factor estimated in the Snowy scheme) one K.W. would produce 3942 K.W. hours a year.

"Moreover, this great amount of   power can be produced and delivered to the capital cities of Melbourne and Sydney at about half the cost of production of electricity by steam stations burning coal or oil.      

"With adequate and cheap power and adequate water there is no reason why there should     not develop in the Murrumbidgee and Murray areas great inland cities which can feed out their secondary production to the coastal capitals of Australia.

If used  - and I hope it will be used - for decentralised industries near the source of supply the cost might well be little more than one-third of the present cost of power in our capital cities.

"The reason why this scheme is so highly economical is that large volumes of water are available at such great heights.

One gallon of water a second dropping 1,000 feet can produce enough, electric power to provide for the needs of 90 Australians at their present average consumption.

The significance is in the great height from which the water falls - from the highest power stations at the 5,000 ft. level down to where it will be finally discharged to the Murray or the Tumut rivers at only 1,000 feet above sea-level.  

"Because of our capacity to harness at such a height, the same water may be used many times.

Added to this fact, the snow in the mountain areas acts as a natural storage space for many months in the year. This makes it possible for the power to be so cheap and attractive."  

Three Commissioners

The Bill provides for the appointment of a Commissioner and two Associate Commissioners, who will be charged with the responsibility of carrying out the undertaking. Powers are given for the Authority to purchase land, plant, materials and equipment.

State and Local Government authorities will be asked to undertake some of the important aspects of the construction work, and consideration will be given to inviting outside contractors from other parts of the world who have skilled teams for carrying out such work. At the same time a day-labour organisation will be set up.      

Jurisdiction is given to the Authority to transmit electricity generated, but it is anticipated that the New South Wales, and Victorian Governments will erect and maintain the necessary trans- mission lines, as in peace-time they will be large users of the electricity produced and in time of emergency the whole of the electricity supplies would in any case need to be integrated through the power grid of the States.