Friday 6 May 2011

Snowy Mountains Trip - Day 12

Day 12 - 6/5/2011 - Murray 2 Power Station Day Trip (inc Old Geehi Hut)

It was an early start because it was our last chance to do a tour of a Snowy Hydro power station.  The tours only run during the week and this was our last chance before we started heading out of the Snowy Mountains region. Today Evelyn and Allan, (Jodies parents), joined us on a day trip to see the Murray 2 Power Station.  We knew the tours were only conducted at 11am and 1pm so we left at about 7.45am so we would get there in time for the 11am tour.  After talking to a few locals they said that it takes about 2-2.5 hours to go the 80 odd kilometers from Jindabyne to Khancoban due to the winding roads.

We drove from the house through to the centre of Jindabyne and then took the Alpine Way turn-off (near the Big 4 Caravan Park). On the way out along Alpine Way towards Thredbo and beyond, there was thick frost everywhere. You could see the water which was running out of the gutters and drains by the side of the road had frozen and was forming little icicles. It was just amazing to see the landscape with the light layer of frost over everything.  The Pajero was showing an outside temperature of -1 deg and the little warning light for “snow on the road”.  You never get to see that symbol in Bundaberg!!!!

It was quite a steep and winding drive from the west side of Thredbo to the Murray 2 Power Station. Part of this Alpine Way is not recommended for caravans. We stopped quickly at Leatherbarrel Creek Camping and Picnic Area - it was a beautiful spot - but absolutely freezing! The ferns on the ground were frozen solid - but the little creek was still flowing.

Frozen Fern

Leatherbarrel Creek
As I was taking a photo of the creek by the side of the road, a mini bus full of kids towing a box trailer came flying over the bridge.  The driver of the mini bus obviously hadn’t head of a concept called engine breaking because the smell of the brakes was exceptionally strong!

We pushed on towards the Power Station.  We made it there by about 9:45. Just as we pulled in, a tour guide asked us if we would like to join a special “behind the scenes” tour with a school group. Surprise surprise, it was the school group on the mini bus.  We eventually persuaded Evelyn to grab her gear that she needed and stop quizzing the tour guide about the differences between the “special” tour and the normal public tour so that we could actually get on the tour and get the tour under way ;-).

Normally tour groups aren’t allowed in the Station itself and visitors are only allowed on the viewing deck that overlooks the turbines. Because we had managed to arrive early and the school group tour was going to start before the general public tour, the tour people were kind enough to let us tag along with the group so we got a guided tour of the inside of the Station.

Murray 2 Power Station
It was quite amazing to see the Turbines in action - the size of everything was incredible - especially seeing the size of the nuts and bolts that hold all the machinery together!  The tour guide was a Plant Operator for the Station - he obviously knew a lot about how it all works.  He said Australia doesn’t have a lot of hydro power because it simply doesn’t have the water coming from the altitudes required to drive the turbines - unlike a lot of the European countries who have many rivers flowing from the mountainous areas.  It’s a shame because it really is such clean energy by comparison to other sources.

Water pipes, Approx 2m in diameter

Water inlet and turbine

Water inlet into turbine (I would hate to see the size and weight of the socket set required to put that baby together!!!)

Two stories above on the turbine control floor

Us in the ever fashionable high viz gear (Evelyn, Steve, Jodie, Allan)

Transformer for connection to the grid
We also learnt that most of the Snowy Hydro scheme is actually underneath the mountains - you only see the occasional pipe coming out of the side of a hill - but the vast majority of it is underground. They started digging the tunnels from both sides of the Snowies and met in the middle - and were only 2 cm out!  This was all done using horses, explosives and old surveying equipment.

Having a surveying background, I have the utmost respect for all involved in the project, especially the surveyors and engineers.  I find it absolutely amazing the degree of accuracy that they were able to achieve in the conditions and environment that they were in, with the equipment that they had.  No 3D digital terrain models generated from aircraft based LiDAR, (Light detection and ranging), no powerful in field laptops for data reductions, no tunnel boring machines, the list just goes on.

The links below demonstrate the differences in equipment from then to now.
The old way

The new way
(The Trimble is just used as an example.  There is also similar gear made by other companies).

Here is some extracts from wiki that we found very interesting.
Click here for the wiki link.
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 renewable electricity for homes and industries. 
Sixteen major dams, seven major 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.
Approximately 98% of the Scheme's engineering features are underground.

We all agreed that something like this would never be achieved in today’s world of politics due to environmental pressures, cost and the time taken to build! There are some great websites on the Snowy Hydro scheme (promise they are not boring!)

It was also interesting to hear that the scheme is used to supply extra power to the grid to help Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and as far away as Cairns, (basically the eastern sea board), in peak demand times.  The guide also gave a very quick overview of how the generated power is traded (ie bought and sold).  It is essentially like a stock market for electricity and they turn the turbines on and off depending on who wants to buy power and for how much.  That is why the hydro power is so good because they can spin up a turbine to boost output in a matter of minutes to meet demand, as opposed to say coal fired stations where it can take days or weeks to get the turbines to operating levels.

It was also interesting that the Hydro company actually buys power back at the cheaper rates to run pumps that pump water from holding ponds back up into the mountains to other reservoirs so that the water can flow down hill and through the turbines again at peak times so they can sell the electricity for more than what they paid to pump the water up hill!

The behind the scenes tour of the power station was definitely one of the major highlights of the holiday!!!

After our tour of the Power Station we grabbed some smoko and hot drinks out by the Power station Visitors Centre.  Before we left Evelyn forced Allan to model some “lovely” $5 beanies for Jodie and a few other random people sitting in the Visitors Centre, so she could buy him one - he was really thrilled - but at least his head will be warm now!

We headed for Khancoban to quickly show Allan and Evelyn the power station & pondage, then we turned around and headed for home again.  

On the way back to Jindabye we took a quick offroad excursion to find Old Geehi Hut.

Old Geehi Hut
What a great little camping area. There was a bit of flat ground around the hut and a short walk down to the Swampy Plains River. Absolutely spectacular! The water was so crystal clear and soooo cold! Just a gorgeous spot though. We have noted these places to go back camping in the Quantum, but probably when it is a bit warmer!!!!

Swampy Plain River beside Old Geehi Hut
We were going to try and follow the 4WD trail all the way to the Geehi Flats camp ground but we would have had about a 100m river crossing to cross the Swampy Plains River.  As the water was too cold to walk it to check depths etc and we were by ourselves, we decided to turn around and back track to the Alpine Way.

We stopped for lunch at the Geehi Flats camp area.  This is were we would have ended up if we had followed the 4WD track across the river.  This is also a fantastic camping area and would love to spend a few days there.  It looks like it could get quite busy in the good months though.  Again, lots of camp sites right beside the Swampy Plains River!!

On the way home we also stopped in at the Tom Groggin Rest area for a quick look.  As we were running out of time we didn’t get a good chance to find all of the camp sites, but it didn’t look as nice as Geehi Flats.  Whether that was just because we were in a hurry to get back in the afternoon I don’t know.

Just as we were getting back to Thredbo, we received a message from Lisa that they were still in Thredbo waiting for Ian and John to finish their last downhill mountain bike run.  So we stopped in there to meet up with the rest of the gang.  Luckily Ian didn’t get too much air over the jump because I wouldn't have been able to capture it.  I was still trying to workout how to turn on high speed continuous shooting mode on the camera!

Ian finishing off his downhill run
That night for dinner Lisa cooked up roast meat and vegies with the rice pudding for dessert again - YUM!  Again, it was going to be an early start in the morning, so not too many beverages were had!!

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