Opinion: Move along, nothing to see here

18 September 2016

I LEAD the team that manages Hydro Tasmania’s iconic hydro-power assets.

It is a huge privilege, and responsibility that is invigorating and slightly daunting. The hydro portfolio is vast, complex, remote and ageing. We have challenges and much work to do, but that is what makes my job interesting.

The daunting part is honouring the legacy of those pioneering Tasmanians who toiled in adversity to build the hydro system and facilitate the industrial development of our island.

The Hydro is an integral part of Tasmania’s culture and heritage. It has touched the lives of many.

We have a duty to protect and preserve our assets so future generations can enjoy the benefits and advantages of renewable energy.

As the world grapples with climate change and strives to reduce carbon emissions, the potential advantages for Tasmania have never been more powerful.

Hydro Tasmania is Australia’s leading clean energy business. We want to maximise value for Tasmania and inspire pride in Tasmanians by passionately protecting our hydro-power assets for decades to come.

That is my focus, and what energises me as I head to work each day.

That is why I was so bemused to read recent media reports about “explosive” revelations in our 10-year asset management plan.

Far from being explosive, the 10-year plan is our routine annual internal planning document. The document in question is actually the sixth annual edition of that plan.

The plan outlines our maintenance priorities over the next decade, explains the likely consequences if we fail to invest and manage our assets properly, and outlines our plan to manage and maintain them.

Of course, there is no room for complacency. The 10-year plan identifies challenges ahead, as it is meant to do, but it also details our plan and budget to overcome those challenges. To report the risks but not the solutions is very selective.

The Hydro Tasmania board fully supported the plan, and recently approved a funding boost. In implementing previous versions of the plan, our asset risks have declined dramatically. We have rectified 85 per cent of the significant asset issues prioritised since 2007, and our asset performance remains outstanding.

The $13.4 million Rowallan Dam upgrade recently completed to ensure its safety for the next 40 years has just been recognised at the Australian Engineering Excellence Awards.

We have no plans to abandon or decommission any power stations or run them to failure. The 10-year plan does state that we plan to focus investment on our top 27 production lines because these produce 70 per cent of the energy. This has been conveyed as “abandoning” 30 per cent of the assets, which is nonsense.

We have recently invested tens of millions of dollars upgrading Paloona and Meadowbank stations, which contribute to that remaining 30 per cent. Similar investment is planned for Cluny and Repulse, which are also part of the 30 per cent.

We remain committed to assets not in the top 27 production lines. Prioritising certain assets does not mean abandoning the rest. It means we focus more resources on our most important stations, which is common sense.

We have a big program to upgrade turbines over the next several years. We have already invested in the turbines at Gordon, Poatina, Trevallyn, Cethana, Tungatinah, Meadowbank, Paloona and Fisher, with more to come.

Given many stations were built in the 1960s, it is hardly surprising they need upgrades at a similar time. The 10-year plan outlines work required and logically notes that turbines will be increasingly unreliable and risks will escalate if we do not perform it. There is nothing explosive in that.

Far from abandoning any of our assets, we are actively investing and protecting to prime them for the future.

Our 10-year plan program and practices are reviewed and/or audited by industry experts, the Tasmanian Economic Regulator, the Dam Safety Regulator, and insurers.

That scrutiny is welcome and appropriate, given the billions of dollars of infrastructure we manage and the importance of energy security. We do not scrutinise ourselves, the independent experts do, and they routinely describe our asset management as “industry best practice” and “the benchmark by which I assess others”.

Hydro’s greatest challenge is not about assets, but people. In reality, our biggest challenge is continuing to attract and retain the best and brightest apprentices, tradespeople, engineers and scientists.

In doing so, we must keep embracing diversity. I am hugely encouraged that more and more talented women are joining and succeeding in what has typically been a male-dominated environment.

We must use the next decade of asset modernisation to build the hydro-specific skills and expertise the next generation of hydro-power custodians will require.

I hope these explanations help reassure Tasmanians that our assets are not poised at some dramatic and frightening crossroads. They are far better positioned than a decade ago.

Our hydro-power assets are essential to what we do, and we are committed to giving them a robust, secure future.

I encourage people to attend one of our free annual power station tours next month, as hundreds of Tasmanians do.

It is a great opportunity to witness some breathtaking scenery, see the iconic assets we have been talking about, and witness first-hand the knowledge, dedication and immense pride of the team that has responsibility to maintain them. Come and see how we make renewable energy and find out what all the fuss is about.

Evangelista Albertini, Chief Operating Officer of Hydro Tasmania.

This opinion piece ran in the Saturday Mercury newspaper on 17 September, 2016.

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