Clark Dam

Powering Generations

One hundred years ago, one of the boldest feats of engineering ever envisaged was conceived in one of the most remote corners of the world.

Tasmania’s hydro-electric power scheme was carved out of the state’s harsh interior, by ordinary people working in extraordinary conditions. Construction work in the early years was difficult and dangerous, requiring great resilience, innovation and pioneering spirit. 

Thousands of people, many displaced by hard economic times, war and strife, came from all over the world – not only to help build a mighty power scheme but to make Tasmania their home.

Since 1914, Tasmania’s electricity generator has operated under different names, the changes reflecting our growth and governance. Tasmanians, however, have remained true to one name – ‘the Hydro’ or simply ‘Hydro’. 

In 2014, Hydro Tasmania celebrated 100 years of operation. A key part of celebrating this significant milestone was collecting the personal stories of people who have worked for or shared in our remarkable history. You can read their stories on our centenary website.

Where it all began

The Hydro began with a big dream in the early 1900s – to bring electricity to every Tasmanian farm, business and home.  It was an Australian first.  No other state or territory at the time had a public, statewide energy generating enterprise. 

Generation started at Waddamana Power Station in 1916, and since that time the Hydro has been one of Australia’s largest producers of renewable energy. 

Within 20 years, electricity had largely replaced kerosene lamps, candles, and steam engines. 

The Hydro spent eight decades creating Tasmania’s electricity system – 30 power stations and 54 major dams. It was a key force in the State’s economic development from the Depression until the early 1980s, with public opinion strongly in favour of development.

Reinventing the Hydro 

As Australian attitudes to the environment began to shift in the late 1960s-early 1970s the Hydro had to change too.

A campaign of protest against the Gordon-below-Franklin power scheme went all the way to the High Court. 

It changed the way the world looked at wild places and was part of the birth of the Green movement in Australia and Europe. 

Devils Gate Dam

Hydro Tasmania underwent significant reinvention in the 1990s, making a commitment to environmental planning, revegetation and site restoration. The technical expertise of our people was directed to international consulting.  

Hydro’s foundation as a provider of clean energy continued, expanding into wind farms, and we began exporting Tasmania’s clean energy into the National Electricity Market via the Basslink undersea cable to Victoria.  

Part of the Tasmanian community 

Over one hundred years of innovation, the Hydro created employment, with more than 5200 direct jobs at the peak of construction and employing about 30,000 people over the past century. Through the electricity we generated, Tasmania's manufacturing and agriculture industries flourished. 

Hydro’s work saw roads built where there had been none and villages grow in the wilderness.  The migrants we recruited shaped Tasmania’s culture, from the coffee we drink and the use of garlic, olive oil and other new food to our music, art and community celebrations. 

Our engineering and technological breakthroughs changed the way the world approaches the challenge of generating energy – and still do.

© Hydro-Electric Corporation 2019