Long-term gas deal boost for Esperance water plan

THE signing this month of an 18-year contract for Burns and Roe Worley to supply gas-fired power to Esperance has strengthened the attraction of a proposal by United Utilities Australia to pump desalinated seawater from Esperance to the Goldfields.

Following the power go ahead, United Utilities Australia has described its plan as “a highly viable project” and is confident of progressing through the decision process.

The plan, one of three private sector proposals examined in the State Government’s look at a long-term water supply strategy for the Goldfields-Esperance region, was always predicated on cheaper power at Esperance.

The Burns and Roe Worley deal to supply power to Western Power and the Port of Esperance using gas from Apache Energy could also lower construction costs for a project such as United Utilities’ proposal.

The Carnarvon Basin gas will reach Esperance via the existing Goldfields Gas and Kambalda Lateral pipelines, and through a new pipeline to be owned by Worley.

This line will be placed underground, along rail and road.

“It would be beneficial if both pipes were laid at the same time,” a United Utilities spokesperson said.

The company has almost 20 water treatment projects in Australia, including a reverse osmosis plant at the BHP Billiton subsidiary QNI refinery near Townsville, and treatment plants for government utilities in Melbourne and Sydney.

The company’s WA proposal and all its variations – including part-desalination at Esperance, with further desalination plants placed along the pipeline’s route – would be a large project for the company in terms of cost, but only small to medium compared with the volume of water passing through its projects in eastern Australia and overseas.

United has described the WA project as “a highly worthwhile project and an exciting opportunity”, one to which the company has already committed significant resources in preparing its formal bid.

“We believe we’ve got a cost-effective answer and can help WA survive its water crisis. We’re very keen to proceed,” the spokesperson said.

“Everything’s on the table, we know our scheme is bankable and capital up-front costs are covered through a privately-funded consortium.”

United will be waiting longer than at first expected for a decision, however, with the announcement on the State Government’s solution to an improved and long-term water supply for the Goldfields-Esperance region pushed back.

Final proposals were expected to be before State Cabinet by the middle of the year.

These were to have followed a feedback period on the jointly documented results of investigations by the Water and Rivers Commission, two private consultancies, five working groups and numerous sub-committees, all coordinated by the Goldfields-Esperance Region Water Supply Committee.

Three different private sector proposals have been thoroughly vetted, and the results are now with the Minister for State Development, Clive Brown.

However, the public consultation period has not yet commenced and the supply strategy project has now been linked with the more recently announced premier’s taskforce for a statewide water strategy.

An outcome will not be known, therefore, until after a Kalgoorlie forum planned for spring.

This outcome is thought by some to be a combination of solutions, supplying different users from different sources, but almost certainly including the Esperance seawater plan.

Mr Brown last week said he was still reviewing some of the options available and aimed to release the draft strategy for public comment “as soon as this was finalised”.

The water strategy was an important component of a broader water strategy for WA, he confirmed, but a date for the draft strategy release had not been fixed.

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