Snowy Hydro expansion: Turnbull’s big light bulb moment
MALCOLM Turnbull, often accused of letting down voters who had expected a government of grand achievements, is banking his legacy on a triumph of the past.
He wants to enhance and update the Snowy Mountain Scheme, already a fixture of national pride.
The $2 billion proposal would cover three areas which disappointed voters have previously seen as absent from the warmly-welcomed - but soon dismissed - Turnbull prime ministership.
It will be a display of leadership from a man accused more often of being led - at times by his right-wing opponents. On Wednesday, he shirt-fronted Australia's major gas producers over our domestic shortage of the fuel, and has now gone forward with his own plan to expand the 43-year-old Snowy Hydro electric scheme.
It will be a $2 billion commitment to renewable energy and the decarbonisation of power production - the old Turnbull priority - at a time when the battle to retain the primacy of coal has become a political dispute.
The project should excite Australians generally, who for decades have not seen big public projects which challenge the imagination and of which they could claim part ownership.
The Snowy scheme remains a project of great national pride because of the vast size of therer endeavour and the contribution of the many Australians born overseas to its construction between 1949-75. And the fact that it works really well.
Mr Turnbull wants to add pump hydro to the traditional hydro-electric generation of power.
This would involve the pumping water from a reservoir to another at a higher altitude, and the release of that water to run turbines when the power is needed.
The energy would not just be renewable, it would be reliable, compared to wind and solar power which fluctuates and will do until battery storage technology is advanced.
The prime minister has significant problems ahead, the first being where to find the $2 billion needed to boost Snowy output from 4100 mw to 6000 mw.
He has to run negotiations among the three governments which own the existing scheme, and that will not be easy.
And the Prime Minister will have to tend to serious environmental issue, such as the final destination of the pumped water, in what is a major park.
The cumulative difficulties indicate the Turnbull Snowy won't be turning on the lights in NSW and Victoria any time soon. Almost certainly it will not be running while Malcolm Turnbull is Prime Minister.
Mr Turnbull hopes operations will begin in four years and that no new dams will need to be built. But there will be new tunnel work and that often is problematic.
There is no doubt the Prime Minister has been genuine in his consideration of pump hydro. He has been discussing options for some time. And if constructed his idea would be an element in reinforcing the reliable supply of electricity.