Hydro Tasmania, known for most of its history as The HEC, is the government owned enterprise which is
the predominant electricity generator in the state of Tasmania, Australia. The HEC was originally
oriented towards hydro-electricity, due to Tasmania's dramatic topography and relatively high rainfall in
the central and western parts of the state.
Today Hydro Tasmania operates 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
Establishment and unfettered power
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
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. The hydro-industrialisation of Tasmania was seen as paramount above all, and the
complaints from outsiders were treated with disdain.
 Interrupted dam making
The 140 metre high concrete arch Gordon Dam, built in 1974.
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.
When the HEC proposed a dam on the Gordon River, sited below the Franklin River, there was
widespread and vigorous opposition. During the Franklin River '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
The Tasmanian Government attempted to resolve the dispute by offering a compromise dam, sited on
the Gordon River above the Olga River, which would have avoided flooding the Franklin River. However,
almost no-one wanted this compromise. Conservationist were concerned that the Franklin River area
and surrounding wilderness would be damaged, and those in favour of a dam preferred an option that
would utilise the Franklin's water as well as the Gordon's water.
The Tasmanian Government then offered a referendum on the issue, which only offered two choices:
the Gordon below Franklin dam and the Gordon above Olga dam. There was widespread condemnation
that the referendum did not offer a 3rd choice of not having any dam on the Gordon River, and various
opinions were offered as to the best way of communicating this at the ballot box. As it turned out, of the
92% of eligible voters to attended the voting booths that day, 47% voted for the Gordon below Franklin
option, with the remainder voting informally (45%) or for the Gordon above Olga option (8%).The
conservationists were ultimately successful in their campaign to stop any dam on the Gordon River, and
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.
 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
Since the late 1990s HEC water storages have been progressively drawn down due to power demand
exceeding long term supply, the 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.
 Legacy of the HEC
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 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.
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.