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Borumba Pumped Hydro pledged before environmental approvals

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Yabba Creek near the Sunshine Coast, Queensland (image supplied)

There are concerns that the proposed Borumba Pumped Hydro project has not passed its environmental approvals, writes Vivienne Wynter.

STATE AND FEDERAL Governments have told the Australian Energy Market Operator (AMEO) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) that Borumba Pumped Hydro will be operating by 2030, although environmental approvals are not in place.

Critics say it’s too early to include the $14 billion Borumba Pumped Hydro in national energy and environmental planning when the project at Imbil, south of Gympie, does not yet have approval for exploratory works.

Conondale Range Committee spokesman Ian Mackay said it was wrong to commit to the project before environmental assessments had been done.

Mackay said:

It troubles me that commitments to AMEO and UNESCO were given before the full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and exploration stage. Matters of national significance are involved but committing now puts the Federal Environment Minister in a corner. Will assessment be compromised because the project is locked in?

Operators told to improve eco plan

Borumba Pumped Hydro’s exploratory works are currently paused while Queensland Hydro (QH), the company managing the project, responds to a "do-over" letter it received from the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water.

In April last year, the Department wrote to QH asking the company to redo its draft plan to manage the environmental impacts of the exploratory works.

The plan – called a referral report under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act – details the impacts Borumba Pumped Hydro could have on ecological communities and over 20 threatened or endangered species of flora and fauna.

These include the Australian Lungfish, Mary River turtle and Mary River Cod – species that stopped the proposed Traveston Dam – as well as the Glossy Black Cockatoo, White-throated Snapping Turtle, Coxen’s Fig Parrot and Spotted-Tail Quoll.

The referral report states many species could lose habitat, be injured or killed by project works.

The report was less detailed about preventing or mitigating possible impacts which was one area where the Federal Government asked for more information.

Conondale Great Walk Circuit Artists Cascade (image self-supplied).

Insufficient information

In the letter, the Department told QH that the first version of the referral report had "insufficient information" to allow the Minister to approve the exploratory works.

The letter asks for ‘quantification’ of populations of threatened species and for QH to assess the effectiveness of methods used to lessen the impacts.

It asks for more information on the project’s possible impacts on water quality of Yabba Creek, the Mary River and the Great Sandy Strait Ramsar Wetland, saying ‘the Department does not consider the site is hydrologically isolated from the waterways’ mentioned above.

As this story is published, it’s over a year since the Department wrote to QH requesting more information and its understood that Queensland Hydro has not yet submitted the new referral report.

This is why some critics say it’s too early to consider Borumba Pumped Hydro a done deal.

In a submission to AEMO, the Mary River Catchment Coordinating Committee (MRCCC) says AEMO should not include Borumba Pumped Hydro in national electricity market plans ‘given that not even the preliminary exploration works for the project have been assessed or granted federal approval'.

Sunshine Coast Environment Council Advocacy and Engagement (SCEC) manager Narelle McCarthy is also concerned by the commitments to AMEO and UNESCO.

 Said McCarthy:

We understand Borumba Pumped Hydro is an important component of the transition to renewable energy which means energy storage. However, SCEC shares a level of discomfort that Borumba Pumped Hydro has been factored in to the extent it has. When it’s described as a cornerstone project for emissions reduction, that puts a fair bit of weight on it.

Queensland Conservation Council Director Dave Copeman said AEMO had to anticipate likely scenarios to give directions to the energy market.

Copeman said:

If the Environmental Impact Study gets a no from the Federal Environment Minister, AEMO will take Borumba Pumped Hydro out of their forecast. The QCC believes any discussion around ecological impacts of a particular renewable energy should be framed within the necessary transition to renewable energy Queensland must make.


The greatest impacts on nature are from climate change. It’s not like we have a choice of options that impact the environment or not, we have to transition.

Minister for Energy and Clean Economy Jobs Mick de Brenni said Borumba Pumped Hydro was not the only AMEO-listed project in the early stages.

Said de Brenni:

Many of the projects in the AEMO Integrated Systems Plan are at early stages of development or execution and are progressing through environmental assessments and approvals, just as this project is. All informed authorities have high levels of confidence in the benefits of the project.

National Parks and state forests affected

Borumba Pumped Hydro’s project footprint is within Conondale National Park and borders Wrattens National Park, but some conservation groups are relaxed about it.

National Parks Association of Queensland (NPAQ) CEO Chris Thomas is confident QH will do a good job managing environmental impacts.

Thomas said:

As Conondale NP will be inundated slightly, we are watching Borumba Pumped Hydro closely to ensure there is no net impact on the national parks. We are not overly concerned about the process to date because QH has been transparent and engaged. We agree on the predicted impacts and there is a live discussion about mitigating those impacts and/or offsetting.

Imbil and Yabba State Forests also border the project footprint. Thomas said this was a proposal to merge the two state forests with Conondale National Park into a new, larger park, possibly called Yabba National Park.

Said Thomas: 

"There could be a net benefit for national parks." 

Affected landholders concerned

Glenda Pickersgill, an environmental scientist, grazier and representative of Save the Mary River Coordinating Group, has two properties affected by the proposed Borumba Pumped Hydro project. 

Said Pickersgill:

My Kinbombi block has the transmission corridor cutting through the middle and my Amamoor property is on the banks of the Mary River. Governments are jumping the gun in their race to protect nature. All options for energy storage, including batteries, need to be carefully weighed up here. There is a lot at stake for the Mary River catchment and our special threatened species and ecosystems.

Feds have final say

The final decision on Borumba Pumped Hydro is up to the Federal Minister for the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek.

A spokeswoman for Plibersek said:

The Department is awaiting further assessment information from Queensland Hydro on the Borumba Pumped Hydro Energy Storage Project – Exploratory Works. Once the department receives the additional information, there will be an opportunity for the public to comment on the draft assessment documentation. 


In making her decision on whether the project will go ahead, the Minister will consider the public comments received, as well as any expert advice and departmental advice to determine whether the project’s potential impacts are acceptable under national environment law.

Queensland Hydro CEO Kieran Cusack wrote in Energy Magazine last month that: 

... [QH] understands the proposed Borumba Project is in an area with ecological significance. As it progresses through each stage from environmental approvals to exploratory works to main works, we will work with community groups and other stakeholders who have local knowledge to seek their input as we plan the best ways to deliver environmental offsets from the outset.

MRCCC representative Steve Burgess says he’s still worried:

‘We all want to see energy grid decarbonised but we shouldn’t be blinkered about proper process. We’re not convinced the project will go ahead. It’s recklessly irresponsible to make assurances the project will go ahead before exploratory works are done or approved.’

Vivienne Wynter is a freelance journalist and creative writer based in Queensland. This article first appeared on The Pineapple

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