THE Snowy Mountains 2.0 scheme – a substantial expansion of its hydro-electric capacity – has been a pet project for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Pumped hydro involves using electricity at night – when prices are cheaper – to draw water uphill to release later on to generate electricity when demand is higher.
The same principal applies to battery storage: it does not generate electricity of itself, it only stores it for use at a later time.
Despite this limitation, pumped hydro and batteries are all the rage in political circles, and the Turnbull government has announced it will buy NSW and Victoria out of the Snowy scheme for $6.15 billion, with NSW to receive two-thirds of the money.
Timing is everything in politics and if this pot of money does eventuate, it will likely land in NSW just in time for the March 2019 state election.
The sale has been on the cards for some time and on Friday Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced that all of the windfall would be spent on infrastructure for rural and regional NSW.
Given the bruhaha over the costly stadiums rebuild, a pledge to spend billions in parts of the state that are not Sydney will likely shape as a key policy to convince voters that the government’s gaze extends beyond Emerald City.
Labor says the premier has stolen its policy, claiming the Coalition had originally decided to spend just 30 per cent of the money regionally.
But as some of the ALP’s Hunter MPs have pointed out, if Newcastle is left out of the definition of “regional”, then some of this area’s most pressing infrastructure projects may be left, unfairly, out of the picture.
For the past 20 years or so there has been effectively unanimous agreement across the political spectrum that the Glendale transport interchange is at the top of this region’s infrastructure wish-list.
Despite Labor’s concerns that Newcastle will be short-changed when the spending decisions are announced, the government’s representative in the region, Scot MacDonald MLC, is adamant the announcement is a “huge win for the Hunter”.
If the Coalition is fair-dinkum about spending its Snowy money in regional NSW, then it must find room to fund the interchange, and in full.
Rarely has a project had such a persuasive business case, and ignoring it on the basis of some contrived definition of “regional” would be political bastardry at its worst.