The government-owned hydroelectric project, Snowy 2.0, is slowly regaining ground after a challenging year that halted tunnel excavation progress and increased costs to $12 billion.
In a appearance before the Senate Estimates Committee on Monday, Snowy Hydro CEO Dennis Barnes stated that the tunnel-boring machine Florence has advanced 241 meters since December when it was “resumed” after months of issues in soft terrain.
However, Barnes warns that Florence, which needs to move around 15 meters daily in the coming years to complete the work, will likely face challenging conditions in the remaining part of the project as another 15 kilometers of excavation are needed to complete the load chamber tunnel.
“We are aware that some of the ground conditions ahead of Florence will be tough, and we continue to closely examine options to mitigate the risks,” Barnes said during the estimates hearing in the Senate.
“At the end of the tunnel, there are between 500 and 900 meters of geological fault zones. We know that will be a challenge.”
Barnes mentioned that the project team is considering various options to keep the project on schedule, including investment in another tunnel-boring machine.
“Over the next one or two months, we will continue to analyze that and make a decision,” he stated, adding that it should not require additional funding.
Barnes, who assumed the role at Snowy Hydro in early 2023, has appeared before the Senate Estimates Committee three times and has overseen a review and adjustment of the Snowy 2.0 project, pushing the delivery date of the mega project to December 2028 and the budget to $12 billion.
Originally, a smaller version of Snowy 2.0 was estimated to cost around $2 billion and be completed by 2021.
Among the main criticisms of the previous management of Snowy 2.0 has been the lack of public disclosure about delays and cost increases, as well as the lack of a detailed explanation of why these delays and deviations have occurred.
In the last estimates hearing in the Senate in late October, Barnes told the Committee that most of the issues with the Snowy 2.0 project had originated from a combination of the consequences of the Covid pandemic, design immaturity, and adverse geotechnical findings.
However, this is difficult to independently verify as large portions of the public versions of the 110-page Snowy 2.0 review are partially or completely redacted.
This week, Barnes also pledged to repair the large sinkhole that developed on Florence’s route in Kosciuszko National Park.
“The hole will be filled and revegetated. You will never know it was there,” he said.