Water torture as Chinese company to build NSW hydro projects
A company that shipped Australian medical supplies to China during the coronavirus pandemic is poised to secure tenders for pumped hydro in NSW, sparking national security concerns.
Chinese wind turbine company Goldwind Australia is expected to be chosen to build WaterNSW's Glennies Creek and Glenbawn Dam hydro projects in the Hunter, which each have a capacity to generate about 500MW of baseload electricity.
Sources close to the tender process told The Daily Telegraph they are concerned by Goldwind's continued interest in the projects given other short-listed Australian companies, such as AGL and Meridian, dropped out due to commercial viability issues.
NSW Labor Senator Deb O'Neill said it didn't make sense Goldwind would want to invest in the hydro project when other companies "don't want to touch it with a ten-foot pole".
"I am deeply, deeply troubled by these rumours and the prospect of a major utility with access to critical NSW energy assets owned and managed by a company with major ties to a foreign power," she told the Senate on Monday.
"What is even more troubling to me is Goldwind's desire to hide their ties with the ruling Chinese Party."
Goldwind Australia has consistently denied any links to the Chinese Communist Party, but analysis of the Shenzhen and Hong Kong Stock Exchanges shows of the company's top 10 investors, about 40 per cent are state-owned by China.
During the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak Goldwind Australia sent personal protective equipment (PPE) to China.
"Goldwind has focused on mitigating the impacts of the COVID-19 virus at our business locations in China, Australia and elsewhere, including reciprocal PPE assistance between our teams," a Goldwind spokesman told The Daily Telegraph.
Ms O'Neill questioned the company's ability to handle infrastructure "critical to Australia's future energy needs" when it had sent PPE offshore early in the health crisis.
"If they cannot be trusted with medical gloves and masks how can we expect them to act in Australia's interest with our dams and our power grid," she said.
The hydro project tenders will be subject to the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) for approval.
Goldwind's spokesman said the company had built "several wind and solar projects in Australia" that required FIRB approvals in the past.
"The Australian Government FIRB process is well defined," he said.
However a source familiar with the tender said solar and wind do not have the potential to be used to undermine the security of the power grid as they do not provide baseload electricity in the way coal fired power stations or pumped hydro are able to.
"In a way (pumped hydro) is as valuable as a coal fired power plant, it's not like a wind farm, if you have this asset then you can have some control of baseload power supply in Sydney," the source said.
Goldwind's spokesman said the company was "not in a position to comment on the NSW Water tender process" due to "confidentiality obligations".
A spokeswoman for NSW Water Minister Melinda Pavey said NSW would "remain the owner and operator of the dams" and is investigating hydro opportunities.
"WaterNSW is yet to finalise the tender process, however should it be required, oversight of matters involving foreign investment can be looked at the by the FIRB," she said.
It is understood several Australian companies did not progress tenders as conditions imposed by WaterNSW, including requiring the winning company to hand back the hydro asset after 30 to 40 years and comply with government orders - such as not using water in a drought - had threatened the commercial viability of the projects.
Originally published as Chinese water torture as foreign company set to build NSW hydro projects