Energy from Water

This week Malcolm Turnbull unveiled a plan to develop a system of pumped hydro,  which will expand the Snowy River Power Scheme, increasing its generation by up to 50%. and adding 2,000 megawatts of renewable energy to the National Electricity Market.

The Tasmanian State Government is proposing a similar development of the state’s hydro electric schemes. This would include exploring “in spillway” and “in river” generation.

Hydro electricity has been a feature of the Tasmanian economy for over a hundred years.

It operates by allowing volumes of water to flow downhill through turbines connected to generators.

Launceston’s Duck Reach Power Station, which opened 1895 on the South Esk River, was one of the first hydro-electric power stations in the southern hemisphere.

Duck Reach Power Station
Duck Reach Power Station

The design for the first government-owned hydro power station in Tasmania was developed in 1905 by  Professor Alexander McAulay, professor of mathematics and physics, at the University of Tasmania. Construction of the Waddamana Power Station began in 1910. It used wooden pipelines to transport water from the lake to the turbines to generate power.

Waddamana began operations in 1916.

Waddamana Power Station
Waddamana Power Station 1923

In 1914 the Hydro-Electric Department was formed by the Tasmanian Government to take over the construction of Waddamana. The department was later named the Hydro-Electric Commission, then the Hydro-Electric Corporation ( the HEC) and then Hydro Tasmania.

It has been known by generations of Tasmanians as ‘the Hydro’.

Hydro building Hobart Tasmania.jpg

Today Hydro Tasmania operates thirty hydro-electric and one gas power station, and is a joint owner in three wind farms.

Construction of the early Tasmanian hydro power stations

was done by men, accompanied by their families, living in remote communities or camps that were isolated and often bitterly cold. Many were immigrants. The work was difficult and dangerous. These communities and their struggles feature in the beautiful 1997 novel The Sound of One Hand Clapping by Tasmanian author Richard Flanagan.

Richard Flanagan Tasmanian author

In the 1930s and 1940s

the hydro began to provide better housing and village facilities, modernised equipment and tightened safety precautions on the construction sites.

During the 1960s

with increasing demands for energy from the growing Tasmanian economy, a number of new stations were constructed.

During the 70s and 80s

the Hydro’s operations became increasingly controversial with the construction of the Gordon Dam.

Gordon Dam Tasmania

and the subsequent flooding of the exquisite and irreplaceable Lake Pedder.

Lake Pedder Tasmania

Soon after this began the struggle between environmentalists and the HEC over plans to flood the lower reaches of the Gordon River and the Franklin River. On this occasion, after intervention from the federal government, the wilderness areas were saved from flooding.

These battles resulted in the formation of the Tasmanian Wilderness Society, which became The Australian Wilderness Society, and The United Tasmania Group (UTG), claimed, in places to have been the world’s first Green party*.

Thanks to these people for the images.

Duck Reach Power Station,

Waddamana Power Station (1923), Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office Commons

Royal Visit, Hobart, decorations on Hydro-Electric Commision Building (1954), Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office Commons

“Richard Flanagan” by AUrandomhouse – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Gordon Dam CC BY-SA 2.5,

Lake Pedder By Stefan Karpiniec –, CC BY 2.0,


Timms, Peter (2009). In Search of Hobart. UNSW Press.

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