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It’s down to the wire as power decision looms

MUCH is hanging on next month’s scheduled announcement of the preferred tenderer, or possibly tenderers, to supply electricity to Western Power in six West Kimberley centres.

Western Power is under some pressure to reduce its financial losses in the region, comply with EPA noise regulations, and ensure adequate and more reliable power.

The State utility has sought a mixture of proposals – to supply Broome and Derby, Broome alone, Derby, or a Fitzroy Crossing, Halls Creek and Camballin-Looma combination.

The four short-listed bidders have been more than keen, submitting no less than 15 proposals after requesting an end-of-year extension to prepare these.

These proposals are under investigation and appraisal by a Western Power evaluation team, which from the outset has included two independent community benefit valuers.

Originally there were seven short-listed bidders from 12 expressions of interest, but although Pacific Hydro, the Northern Territory’s Power and Water Commission, and Kimberley Tidal Power have now withdrawn, the ultimate choice does not appear any easier.

In an indication of the difficulty of choosing between the proposals, Western Power has also recently added two new members – a gas expert and an economist.

Western Power has described the choice of proposals as “high quality and innovative”, and the team must make its final recommendations within the next few weeks, to a “reference group” which includes the energy minister’s representative Bill Heron and probity auditor Corey Dykstra.

A Western Power spokesman acknowledged the multitude of combinations possible from the proposals.

“In particular, Western Power will favourably consider proposals for all towns combined,” he said.

However, the aim of the tendering process was to select “the best commercial and technical proposal/s to supply electricity to the five towns either in combination or individually”.

New power stations and sup-plies are due to be operational in 2005, but in the meantime, Broome’s needs have required Western Power to add extra generating units to its plant in the growing centre.

Last month the town required 19.7 MW and by December 2004 is forecast to need 22.5MW, but Western Power says it has provisions in place to raise capacity to almost 30MW if need-ed.

Two of the short-listed hopefuls, the Wesfarmers majority-owned StateWest Power, and Burns & Roe Worley, have well-established credentials in the energy and power sectors in WA.

Both are already setting up new power projects – StateWest to supply six new power stations in the State’s mid-west, and BRW to build a gas-fired plant to supply Esperance, and in negotiations as the preferred bidder to build another, in Exmouth.

Wesfarmers Energy managing director David Robb said the Broome load was considered a major attraction of the West Kimberley opportunity.

“This one would be much larger than the mid-west contract,” Mr Robb said.

“We are quite excited about future growth opportunities for StateWest,” Mr Robb said.

Of StateWest’s chances with the West Kimberley contract, Mr Robb would only describe the company’s position as “hopeful”, the same term used by BRW regional manager WA and NT, Les Green.

Kimberley Power director Maurice Brand also was shy of predicting his company’s chances, but Mr Brand has been keen on providing power to the region for some time.

Mr Brand was a director of the former Energy Equity, which in a joint venture with Woodside was named preferred bidder in a previous Western Power process to supply new power to the West Kimberley centres.

If Kimberley Power’s proposal gets up this time, Bevan Warris’ Gulliver Productions plans to develop the Point Torment gas field near Derby will be advanced.

The company is still planning mid-year drilling, and a mini LNG plant proposed for Derby, could supply the town and other West Kimberley sites.

Queensland-based EDL Group Operations, also still in the West Kimberley hunt with a few proposals, has interests in 28 power projects in Australia, including several in the Northern Territory and northwest Queensland.

This is the first WA regional power bid by EDL, which includes renewable and waste-to-energy projects in its portfolio.

A company spokesperson said EDL could offer a range of generation technologies for the West Kimberley.

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