Scheme in hot water

The Federal Government wants it. So does much of the local community.

The State Government doesn’t. It has already awarded the contract to an alterative project.

Conservationists don’t support it either. They say the risks are too high.

Indeed, the tidal power generation scheme proposed for Derby has created a lot of controversy.

Sadly, perhaps predictably, the issue has become political.

Development versus conservation. Party versus party. Local versus local.

On face value, the proposal to harness the mighty, natural power of the tidal system, with its huge tidal range, at Derby makes wonderful sense.

Natural, clean, sensible.

None of the foul pollution emitted by traditional power generation operations that use different types of fuel.

Many of the locals want it, too.

A project of the scale proposed for Derby would, they argue, revitalise the area. There would be employment, activity, interest. Maybe a mini-boom.

However, there are growing concerns about the environmental impact of the scheme.

Such as how altering the flow of water, however minor, into King Sound will affect the ecosystem.

And about what impact the cyclone season would have on the scheme?

Similar schemes have been tried around the world, but only a French attempt has had success.

There are also economic concerns.

The cost of the proposal has been estimated at up to $335 million.

The alterative project has an estimated capital cost of $80 million.

The proposal, a joint venture of Woodside Energy and Energy Equity Corp, has already been awarded the contract to supply Western Power with power for the Kimberley after a public tender process.

The Government sought a supplier of power for Western Power for the 30,000 people in the vast region rather than be burdened with the mammoth expense of upgrading its system.

The joint venture involves the construction of power stations in towns to be fuelled by natural gas.

Based on the economics of constructing the two proposals, the tidal scheme is difficult to justify.

Ratepayers have a vested interest, for up to $150 million of government money could be used to help construct the tidal scheme.

The Federal Government has said it would provide a subsidy of at least $60 million. Tidal Power Australia, the company pursuing the scheme, is conscious of this, saying it is prepared to pay back any public matter.

A noble sentiment, but ratepayers deserve a guarantee the money would be forthcoming.

The Federal Government is keen for the project to proceed. Premier Richard Court was “encouraged” by his Federal colleagues while in Canberra last week to support the plan.

It does not hurt to be seen developing projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and use renewable energy.

The State Opposition has, of course, jumped on board, saying it would ensure Derby has a tidal power scheme if it is elected. It even threw in a $15 million road subsidy as a sweetener.

It wants the Kimberley seat badly.

The State Government has to ensure the politics of the issue do not cloud its thinking. The Kimberley deserves reliable, affordable power – that’s the real issue.

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