Slack tide on NW power plan

ALMOST a dead calm appears to have settled on plans for a tidal energy project in the State’s north-west.

Hydro Tasmania is due to report next month on the feasibility and implications of tidal power generation for Derby, but nobody is expecting any action before February 2002.

The $100,000 “scoping and impact” study was commissioned by the State Government in September to identify companies interested in tendering for a Derby project, assess the technologies, costs, environ-mental and social impacts and amounts of back-up required, and to ultimately advise Energy Minister Eric Ripper on the appropriate scope of a tendering process.

But after the Derby-only study had commenced, a contract to supply power to Western Power from four gas-fired power stations in the Kimberley collapsed.

The Government then spoke of a possible tender process for a “large-scale” tidal energy project to supply power to the region, dependent on a significant financial contribution from the Federal Government.

But earlier Federal Coalition verbal promises of up to $80 million of subsidy support have dried up in the lead-up to the Federal election, and the WA Government has said it will not call tenders until it has the required backing.

A spokesperson from Mr Ripper’s office admitted all plans for some form of tidal energy in the region could fall over on the issue of subsidies.

Some type of announcement would be made in February, he said, but not necessarily “who” or “what”.

Derby-West Kimberley Shire chief executive officer Jonathan Throssell believes there is sufficient detail available and, given any successful submission could not be operational within two or three years, it is time to call for tenders.

While some engineers say the minimum range tides at Derby each month preclude a success-ful tidal energy venture using any model, Mr Throssell says previous feasibility studies have supported a small-scale venture with some form of back-up supply.

Whatever the decisions early next year, extra long-term power supply to the region has been put back and local councils have expressed some concern.

The diesel-fired plant at Broome is viable for between three and five years, but Western Power and the Broome Shire are meeting this month to discuss plans.

While he believes “the lights will not go out in Broome in 2003 – Western Power has fixed that”, Shire of Broome chief executive officer Greg Power says Broome will need a new power station and the site cannot be determined until the plant’s power source is determined — that is, whether it will be gas from the sea or gas through a land pipeline or power down a 200-kilometre power line from a Derby tidal energy project.

Western Power has increased both capacity and power distribution in the region in the past year. But it is considering future options and will reportedly hire additional capacity if necessary.

Derby-West Kimberley Shire president Elsa Archer agrees it is time to get on with tenders and projects, given that a 20-50 year purchase agreement needs to be negotiated with Western Power at an acceptable price, and favours a tidal venture for its possible tourism spin-off.

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