The Thargomindah Artesian Hydro Power Plant is believed to be the oldest, working unit in Australia, and possibly the world!
Thargomindah was the first town in Australia, and the third in the world, to produce hydro-electric power for street lighting, through the harnessing of bore water from the Great Artesian Basin. It was also the first town in Australia to have reticulated water. The Hydro Power Plant Display Shed is a replica of the original shed, which was built on the site. It houses a working Pelton Wheel, and a display of old equipment, which was originally used by the early pioneers of the region to create energy.
In 1891, drilling commenced on a bore to supply the town of Thargomindah with water, and in 1893 a good water supply was struck at a depth of 2650ft (808m), with the bore water registering a temperature of 84° Celsius. In 1924, it was recorded that the bore was producing 670,000 gallons a day. The water was being expelled from the bore at full force in a 70 foot high plume, with the temperature registering 86° Celsius, or 178° Fahrenheit. Today the water flow has dropped to 340,000 gallons a day, with a temperature of 84° Celsius and a pressure of 248kpa.
The old Bore was the source of energy for Australia’s first hydro-electric scheme. In 1898 the street lights of Thargomindah were powered through the use of generators, which were coupled to a water turbine that was driven by the bore’s natural water pressure. Around 1893/1894, Mr Paterson, the local sawmill owner, purchased an electric generator from Brisbane, which was operated by a steam engine, which was used to create electricity for the town’s first power plant.
By 1898 the Bulloo Divisional Board had purchased Paterson’s Power Plant, thus making it the first municipality to own an electric power plant. The Board then offered for Tender, a contract for the generation of power for Thargomindah, through the use of the natural water pressure of the Artesian Bore. Two Tenders were received, one from Brisbane for £900, and one from Thargomindah for £160. As the Board preferred to support local businesses, they accepted the offer from the local blacksmith, Joe Hood, who was also the local bandmaster. Joe built a water wheel to the design and specifications of a Mr Holmes, who was the Engineer to the Board. This water wheel was installed in a casing made from a ship’s water tank, and was coupled to two (2) 110 volt DC generators by a belt. Prior to the old bore being drilled, Thargomindah’s drinking water was transported by bullock wagon from Bourke in ship’s water tanks.
The original locally made water wheel was eventually replaced by a Pelton wheel, which was designed in Melbourne. This wheel was later updated with a Triumph Pelton Wheel, which was valued at £50 in 1919. These wheels had individual buckets directly aligned opposite each other around the perimeter of the wheel. The original turbine produced 20 horsepower, and approximately 15 kilowatts of power from the two (2)110 volt DC generators.
Thargomindah’s power supply was carried to the town, a distance of one (1) mile by overhead wires. This was in direct breach of the Queensland Electric Light and Power Act of 1896, because of the potential danger of fallen wires. In 1898, Government Electrician John Hesketh reported to Cabinet that the scheme would not be commercially viable if underground lines were to be used. Consequently, on 24th January 1899, a variation to the Law was introduced, and accepted, which allowed the use of overhead wires. Lighting for Thargomindah’s homes and streets was only provided for a restricted period – from 5.30pm to 11.30pm daily.
This method of Power operation continued until 1951, at which time the Bulloo Shire Council received applications from fifty (50) of the townspeople to provide continuous power for the residents. In order to comply with this request, the Council installed diesel generators, which were in use until 1988. The diesel generators ran continuously for 37 years without a breakdown. It is reported that the only time that there was any type of failure was when the local operator would get drunk on Saturdays, and failed to turn on the generators.
In 1988 the Queensland government became involved, and installed $2 million worth of infrastructure, which connected Thargomindah to the national grid through Cunnamulla. Ever since, the town has experienced regular power surges and outages. The old method of power generation was reasonably efficient, environmentally friendly, very low in maintenance, had minimal moving parts, and ran quietly.
The new sealed town bore was commissioned in July 1999, and has an average temperature of 82°C. The bore is 820mtrs deep, and has a flow of 1.3 million gallons, or 5,720,000 litres per day, with a force of 1200kpa.
The Great Artesian Basin (GAB) is one of the most important water resources in Australia. It underlies an area of 1.7 million square kilometres, approximately 22 per cent of the continent. It is the only source of reliable water for human activity and water-dependent ecosystems in much of the arid and semi-arid landscape overlaying the Basin in Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and the Northern Territory. The deposits occurred in three major depressions; the Carpentaria, Eromanga and Surat basins, which together form the Great Artesian Basin. Across the basin, the average depth of bores is 500m, but some bores have been drilled to 2,000m depth.
Formed between 100 and 250 million years ago, the Basin comprises alternating layers of water-bearing (permeable) sandstone aquifers and non-water-bearing (impermeable) siltstones and mudstones. The impermeable rocks confine the aquifers, causing the groundwater to become pressurized. In most areas the water is under sufficient pressure to provide a flowing source once it rises to the surface through artesian bores and natural springs.
(Reference: Department of Environment and Resource Management, Queensland Government)