Hydro Tasmania

Hydro Tasmania

Infobox Company
company_name = Hydro Tasmania
company_type = Electricity generation
foundation = 1929 (as HEC); 1998
location = Hobart
key_people = D.M.Crean (Chairman)
V.J.Hawksworth (CEO)
industry = Utilities
products = Electricity
Group turnover =
operating_income = ($AU) 79,367,000
num_employees = 820
parent = Tasmanian Government
subsid =
homepage = [http://www.hydro.com.au Hydro Tasmania]
footnotes =

Hydro Tasmania, known for most of its history as "The HEC", is the predominant electricity generator in the state of Tasmania, Australia.

The Hydro was originally mainly oriented towards hydro-electricity due to Tasmania's dramatic topography and relatively high rainfall in the central and western parts of the state.

Currently power stations including 27 hydro-electric, one thermal and two diesel power stations. It also has one wind farm in service, with expansion and two additional wind farms in progress of being approved.

Early history - power unfettered

In 1914, the State Government set up the Hydro-Electric Department (changed to the Hydro-Electric Commission in 1929) to complete the first HEC power station, the Waddamana power stations. Prior to that two private hydro-electric stations had been opened the Launceston City Council's Duck Reach Power Station, opened 1895 on the South Esk River (it was the first hydro-electric power station in the southern hemisphere) and the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company's Lake Margaret Power Station, opened in 1914. Both these power stations where taken over by the HEC and closed in 1955 and 2006 respectively

Following the Second World War - in the 1940s and early 1950s, many migrants came to Tasmania to work for the HEC with construction of dams and sub-stations. This was similar to the Snowy Mountains Scheme in New South Wales and similar effects in bringing in a significant number of people into the local community enriching the social fabric and culture of each state. Most constructions in this era were concentrated in the centre of the island.

As the choice of rivers and catchments in the central highlands were exhausted, the planners and engineers began serious surveying of the rivers of the west and south west regions of the state. The long term vision of those within the HEC and the politicians in support of the process, was for continued utilisation of all of the state's water resources.

As a consequence of such a vision, the politicians and HEC bureaucrats were able to create the upper Gordon river power development schemes despite worldwide dismay at the loss of the original Lake Pedder [ [http://www.lakepedder.org/resources/reports/Pedder2000Submission.htm Lake Pedder Submission 1995 ] ] . The Hydro-industrialisation of Tasmania was seen as paramount above all, and the complaints from outsiders were treated with disdain.

Later history - interrupted dam making

Following the flooding of Lake Pedder by the HEC for the upper Gordon Power Development and the subsequent backlash against the HEC incursions into the south west wilderness of Tasmania, environmental groups of the 1970s and 80s alerted the rest of Australia to the continued power that the HEC had over the Tasmanian environment and politics.

Numbers of Tasmanian politicians either rose or fell on their alignment with the support of the HEC and its power development schemes in the south west and West Coast of Tasmania. [Pink. Kerry (2001) "Through Hells Gates: A History of Strahan and Macquarie Harbour" Fifth edition ISBN 06463666653 pp.71-88 for accounts of the "Organisation for Tasmanian Development" and others ]

During the 'No Dams' campaign it was common for members of families to be in conflict with one another by being aligned with the HEC proposals or the Conservationists.

Although the dam received majority support at a referendum on the issue (voting compulsory), conservationists were ultimately successful in their campaign. The proposal and early works on the Gordon-below-Franklin Dam, ended in 1983 when it was blockaded by the environmentalists and the state lost a High Court challenge to the Commonwealth's powers.

The compromise between the State and Federal government and conservationists led the HEC to see the end of an over fifty year long dam making enterprise in the construction of the Henty River and King River power developments.

Since the late 1990s HEC water storages have been progressively drawn down due to power demand exceeding long term supply, overcoming of which was the original reason the Gordon-below-Franklin dam was proposed. The shortfall has been offset first by drawing down water storage and in latter years through increasing volumes of fossil fuel power generation, at first fuelled by oil and more recently by gas and, via the Basslink cable link to Victoria, coal.

The limits reached

The conservationists and the HEC in the 1980s acknowledged that there were a limited range of options for further power development schemes, and it was inevitable that the substantial workforce within the HEC specifically employed in the investigation and development of further dams would eventually become redundant.

The people who had been employees of the HEC in the 1940s to the 1980s were an important part of the population of Tasmania, and the heritage and oral history issues of the institution have been acknowledged by the recent management of Hydro Tasmania in employing people to make a reasonable record of that era, and earlier.

From HEC to Hydro Tasmania

Hydro Tasmania was formed on the dis-aggregation of the Hydro Electric Commission on July 1, 1998. This resulted in the division of the formerly government owned department into three companies - Hydro Tasmania which generates the power, Transend Networks which transmits it across the state, and Aurora Energy, the retail arm, which sells and distributes it to customers. This was in anticipation of Tasmania joining the National Electricity Market, which occurred in May 2005.


The organisation clearly was an important one in the history of Tasmania, and thousands of Tasmanians have been employed or are related to employees and past employees. In recognition of its place in history, not just in environmental issues controversy, the organisation has employed staff to work on the legacy and cultural heritage of the Hydro. The responsibility to its heritage has not prevented the organisation in its move to rationalise, and the current status of the Lake Margaret Power Station has led the Hydro to have produced a comprehensive heritage survey of the site prior to its decommissioning as an active part of the system.


Hydro Tasmania is presently a government owned enterprise. There is a case in Tasmania for the company to be privatised; both to raise revenue and to improve company efficiency. The Liberals supported privatisation in the 1990s but failed to convince the public of its merits. They have now reversed this policy. The Labor Party and the Tasmanian Greens have never openly supported privatisation; however many speculate that the Labor Party will support this move in the future. Some evidence of this first arose in late 2003 when Labor allowed Hydro Tasmania to sell its subsidiary software business, Hydstra, to a German competitor and again in 2005 when they allowed the sale of part of its financial interests in Wind Farms to a Chinese company CLP Power Asia [http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200509/s1466866.htm] . However the present policy of all three major political parties is against privatisation and community opinion mostly supports public ownership.


The following lists start from a 1962 publication. [Garvie, R. M. H. (1962) "A million horses: Tasmania's power in the mountains" Hobart: Hydro-Electric Commission, Tasmania. page 26 list]

Former administrators

*The Hydro Electric Department (1914–1930)

"Chief Engineer and General Manager"
* Sir John Butters C.M.G., M.B.E., M.I.C.E. - 1914-1924 [http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A070517b.htm?hilite=john%3Bbutters Biography]
* H.A. Curtis, A.M.I.E. Aust., A.Am.I.E.E. - 1925-1930 [http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/AS10117b.htm?hilite=curtis%3Bharry Biography]

*The Hydro-Electric Commission

* H.A. Curtis 1930-1933
* W.E.Maclean 1940-1946 [http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/AS10310b.htm Biography]
* A.W. Knight 1946-1977 [ Shepherd, Robert "Allan Knight 1910-1998" p.202 of Companion to Tasmanian History]


* The Hon. Sir John C McPhee - 1930-1934
* The Hon. Sir Walter Lee - 1934
* The Hon. T.H. Davies - 1934-1942
* The Hon. Sir Robert Cosgrove - 1942-1958
* The Hon. Eric Reece - 1958

See also

* List of active power stations in Tasmania
* Duck Reach Power Station, Tasmania


Further reading

* Garvie, R. M. H. (1962) "A million horses: Tasmania's power in the mountains" Hobart: Hydro-Electric Commission, Tasmania.
* Kellow, Aynsley J. (1996) Transforming power : the politics of electricity planning. Cambridge, UK; Cambridge University
* Lupton, Roger. (1999) "Lifeblood: Tasmania's Hydro Power" Edgecliff, N.S.W. Focus Publishing, ISBN 0875359338
* Lupton, Roger. "Electricity" pp.117-118 in Companion to Tasmanian History
* Quirk, Marilyn. & Arts Tasmania. & Hydro Tasmania.(2006), "Echoes on the mountain : remarkable migrant stories from the hydro villages of the Tasmanian centralhighlands' Quirk. 'Heybridge, Tas.
* Thompson, Peter. (1981) "Power in Tasmania" Hawthorn, Vic: Australian Conservation Foundation. ISBN 0-85802-067-X
* Scanlon, Andrew. (1995) "Water power" 2nd ed. [1st ed 1990] Hobart: Hydro-Electric Commission, Tasmania. ISBN 0-7246-4231-5

External links

* http://www.hydro.com.au Hydro Tasmania
* http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/wha/wherein/detail.html

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