Snowy Mountains Scheme

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The launch of the Scheme, L-R Prime Minister Ben Chifley and Sir William McKell

The Snowy Mountains Scheme is a massive water diversion and storage scheme, taking water from the eastern slopes of the Australian Alps (part of the Great Dividing Range) in eastern Victoria and southern New South Wales through pipes, tunnels and aqueducts into a series of dams, for use in hydro-electric power generation and irrigation in the Murrumbidgee and Murray valleys.

The Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme is one of the most complex integrated water and hydro-electric power schemes in the world. The Scheme collects and stores the water that would normally flow east to the coast and diverts it through trans-mountain tunnels and power stations. The water is then released into the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers for irrigation.

The Scheme took 25 years to build and was completed in 1974. More than 100,000 people from over 30 countries came to work in the mountains to make true a vision of diverting water to farms to feed a growing nation and to build power stations to generate electricity for homes and industries.

Sixteen major dams, seven power stations (two underground), a pumping station, 145kms of inter-connected trans-mountain tunnels and 80kms of aqueducts were constructed. Even before the Scheme was completed, it was named as one of the civil engineering wonders of the modern world.

The Scheme is operated and maintained by Snowy Hydro Limited.

Today, Snowy Hydro continues to play a vital role in the growth and the development of Australia’s national economy, by diverting water that underwrites over $3 billion in agricultural produce and by generating clean renewable energy.

Snowy Hydro currently provides over 70% of all renewable energy that is available to the eastern mainland grid of Australia, as well as providing fast response power to light up the morning and evening rush hours of Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide.

A Powerhouse Museum article on the Scheme, with lots of numbers and things.


Contents

The History

As a means of offsetting the disastrous effects of droughts, the concept of diverting water from some of Australia’s best-known rivers - the Murray, Murrumbidgee, Snowy and Tumut Rivers - dates back as far as the 1880s. However, it was not until 1944 that a committee of Commonwealth and State representatives was formed to examine, from a broad, national viewpoint, the development of the water resources of the Snowy Mountains area.

Lined pressure tunnel at Guthega, 1955

On July 7 1949, the Commonwealth Parliament passed The Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Power Act 1949 (the Act), which established the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority, the operating body of the Snowy Mountains Scheme.

Construction started on the Scheme on 17 October 1949, when the Governor-General, Sir William McKell, Prime Minister Ben Chifley and William Hudson fired the first blast at Adaminaby. Construction was completed in 1974, for a total historical cost (funded by Commonwealth Government advances) of $820 million.

The head of construction, William Hudson, was a New Zealander who in the 1920's had built some of New Zealand's first large-scale hydro-electric projects at Mangahao and Arapuni.

On completion in 1974, the Scheme consisted of seven power stations, 16 major dams, 145 kilometres of inter-connected tunnels and 80 kilometres of aqueducts.

In 1997 a new company, Snowy Hydro Trading Pty Ltd (SHTPL), was established by the New South Wales Government and the State Electricity Commission of Victoria, as a joint venture to trade electricity generated by the Snowy Mountains Scheme in the National Electricity Market. SHTPL acted as an agent for the Scheme’s electricity entitlement holders and was the registered generator in respect of the Authority’s generation capabilities. The Commonwealth formally joined SHTPL as a shareholder in February 2000.

On June 28 2002 the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority was corporatised. This resulted in the merger of the Authority and SHTPL to become Snowy Hydro Limited.

Built in the national interest with the support of the New South Wales, Victorian, South Australian and Commonwealth Governments, the Scheme today provides electricity to the National Electricity Market and much needed drought security to Australia’s dry inland.

Snowy Hydro Limited operates and maintains the Snowy Mountains Scheme, recognised as one of the modern civil engineering wonders of the world.

The People

English teachers were employed to take classes for the migrant workers. Cooma, 1951. Between 1949, when the first blasting shot was fired, and by 1974, when the physical works of the Scheme were completed, over 100,000 men and women from more than 30 countries had worked on the Scheme. Australians formed the largest nationality group on the Scheme, making up one-third of the workforce, which reached a peak of 7300 in 1959.

English teachers were employed to take classes for the migrant workers. Cooma, 1951.

Many migrants were escaping the horror of war-torn Europe to begin a new life in a new land. Working together on the Scheme, they became part of the Snowy family – with former enemies and allies working side by side.

The Snowy Mountains Scheme – tough and unremitting as the work was – provided their introduction to Australian working life and it stands as a monument to their endeavour.

During construction, seven regional townships and over 100 temporary camps were established throughout the Snowy Mountains. These towns and camps serviced the men, women and families who came to build the Scheme. Life in the camps was extremely hard, especially during the early years, when hundreds of men spent harsh winters in canvas tents with only basic amenities and provisions.

A sense of companionship and camaraderie grew out of hard work and isolation. Community centres and health facilities were established in towns around the Scheme. Cooma changed from a quiet farming town to a cosmopolitan centre with nightclubs, hotels, and delicatessens with new and exotic foods.

Happy Jacks School 1956

Children almost certainly had the best time of all. Their classrooms were no different from those in the cities, except that once school was finished for the day, there was a range of exciting activities. In summer there was bushwalking, yabby-catching and horse riding and in the winter, snowball fights, skiing and tobogganing.

In 1974 when construction on the Scheme was finished, many of the workers dispersed to new jobs in Australia and overseas. But by far a majority of those who came to build the Scheme and a new life stayed, becoming Australian citizens. These new Australians with their energy and enterprise would change Australia’s social and cultural skyline forever.

The Snowy Mountains Scheme is not just a great feat of engineering; it is also a great social achievement with its multi-national workforce contributing to the cultural mix we enjoy today. It has also made a significant contribution to the economic development of modern Australia.

The story of the Scheme’s construction is a story of people who persevered through harsh conditions, rugged country and a unique climate, to eventually build one of the greatest projects ever undertaken in the world.


How the Scheme Works

The idea behind the Scheme is simple.

Precipitation in the form of snow and rain falls in the catchment area of the Scheme. A catchment area is any part of the land where water drains to the lowest part.

Water from melting snow and rain is collected and stored behind dams in lakes and reservoirs and then diverted through tunnels and pipelines down to power stations, hundreds of metres below. Mountainous regions are ideally suited to the generation of hydro-electricity, because there is plenty of rain and snow, low temperatures meaning less evaporation and high mountains to provide the steep fall that is needed for the water to spin the turbines.

In its simplest form, electricity is generated by rotating a magnet inside a wire coil. In a power station, this process is enhanced; the magnet is an electro-magnet or ‘rotor’ spinning inside the fixed coils or ‘stator’ of the generator. Each generator is mounted on a vertical shaft above the turbine and water is used to drive the turbine, which operates the generator. Transformers boost generated voltage to a level that can be economically transmitted over long distances by transmission lines to the towns and cities of eastern mainland Australia.

Cutaway Diagram of Generator

The amount of electricity able to be generated depends primarily on the distance the water falls (head) and the volume of water (flow) regulated through the turbine.

The type of turbine used is determined by whether the water falls from a high, medium or low head. The Scheme’s power stations use Francis turbines, generally suited to medium heads. Francis turbines have guide-vanes and runners with fixed blades. These guide-vanes control the volume of water required to drive the turbine and thereby determine the amount of electrical power produced.

Once the water has passed through the turbines in the power stations, it is released into rivers to be used to irrigate farms in the dry regions west of the Great Dividing Range.

For more information on the Scheme and how it works, you can buy ‘The Power of Water’, a booklet on the Scheme. Check out the Snowy Shop for more details.


Engineering Facts

In 1967, the American Society of Civil Engineers rated the Snowy Mountains Scheme as one of the seven civil engineering wonders of the modern world. The Scheme has the added distinction of being one of the most complex multi-purpose, multi-reservoir hydro schemes in the world. Construction of the Scheme took 25 years and was completed on time and within budget. Important advances in engineering were achieved during the construction of the Scheme, including rockbolting and the use of 330kV transmission lines. The Scheme is mostly located in the Kosciuszko National Park. However, only two per cent of its engineering features are above ground. Various recent independent technical reviews confirm that because of sound design and construction, above average operations and maintenance practices, the ingenuity and performance of the Scheme is of world class standard.


Power Stations

Tumut 3 Power Station

The Snowy Mountains Scheme consists of 7 power stations - Murray 1, Murray 2, Guthega, Blowering, Tumut 1 (located 366 metres below ground level), Tumut 2 (located 244 metres below ground level), and Tumut 3.

These power stations have 31 turbines with a total generating capacity of 3756 megawatts (MW).

Murray 1 Power Station

The Scheme's seven power stations produce on average, 4500 gigawatt-hours of clean renewable electricity each year, to meet peak power demand.


Dams

Talingo Dam

The Snowy Mountains Scheme consists of 16 major dams. There are five different types of dams - Rockfill, Earthfill, Concrete gravity, Concrete arch and Slab and buttress.

Eucumbene Dam forms Lake Eucumbene, the central storage area of the Scheme.

The Scheme's largest Dam is Talbingo Dam.

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