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Tidal pressure mounts

FEDERAL Liberal MPs have stepped up the pressure on the State Government to back the controversial $335 million Derby Tidal Power Station proposal.

The Minister for Forestry and Conservation, Wilson Tuckey, has told Business News the MPs met the Premier Richard Court during his visit to Canberra last week, to urge him to support the proposal and accept a Federal Government offer of $60 million assistance to enhance its viability.

The strong stand in support of tidal power highlights how divided the Liberal Party is over the proposal. Just last month State Liberal MPs voted down a Labor motion to support the proposal provided Federal funding was made available and a Federal due diligence review endorsed it.

The review has been completed but has not yet been released. Mr Tuckey, however, said the Government supported both the engineering concept and the capacity of the parties to do the job.

“The review was done by Snowy Mountains Engineering and KPMG,” Mr Tuckey said.

“They restated the need for a $60 million public contribution, plus the gifting of Western Power’s power stations in the area and the building of a $15 million road (to make the proposal viable) but the Federal Government has offered assistance.

“At the meeting with the Premier the MPs strongly requested he take up the offer.

“The MPs put a unified case and there was only one person missing, the Attorney General, Daryl Williams, and he has expressed support for the proposal in the past.

“We only have the power of persuasion but we are entitled to remind the voters of WA about tidal power.

“If the State Government does not take this opportunity to make the proper decision, the debate will go on and Labor has said they will build it.”

The Derby tidal power station proposal was one of six considered last year by a regional power procurement steering committee set up to find a preferred tenderer to supply electricity to the west Kimberley.

The committee selected a gas energy option put forward by Energy.

Equity Corporation and Woodside Energy Ltd. Western Power is now negotiating with the winning consortia for an 18-year, $320 million electricity supply contract.

Just before the Canberra meeting the Conservation Council revealed it had lobbied the Prime Minister John Howard to reject the tidal power proposal on environmental grounds.

In a letter sent late last month the Council President, Dr Sue Graham-Taylor, told Mr Howard the project will produce a “miniscule” reduction in the State’s greenhouse emissions and the gain would be outweighed negative environmental impacts.

The tidal power proposal has been put forward by a private company, Tidal Energy Australia Pty Ltd, with support from Leighton contractors in the form of a fixed price building contract.

The proposal seeks to harness the area’s huge tides – some of the highest in the world – as a source of energy for the west Kimberley. Although rejected by the steering committee and an independent scientific study established by the State Government, the proposal has strong local support.

As illustrated by last week’s events, it also has strong support among Federal Liberal MPs. The State Opposition claims some state Liberal MPs, including two ministers, have also expressed support although only in private.

However, the Minister for Resources and State deputy leader Colin Barnett, has indicated he is willing to defy state cabinet over the issue if it interferes with the tender process.

The Conservation Council has a long track record of supporting the development of sustainable energy resources.

Dr Graham-Taylor admitted to Business News that opposing the proposal was “hard” for the Council, but “wider implications” tipped the balance.

She said the 200,000 tonne reduction in greenhouse gases was only 1/20 of one per cent of Australia’s total emissions and the proposal was based on “old, environmentally destructive” technology, which would do nothing to stimulate the growth of the country’s renewable energy industry.

“There are only two projects (using this technology) in the world,” Dr Graham-Taylor said.

“The La Rance project in France was built in the 1960s but on rock and it involved draining a whole estuary. The Derby proposal would be built on sediment.

“Canada set up a trial tidal power project in Nova Scotia in 1985 and planned more. After 15 years monitoring the environmental effects, however, they have abandoned the plans because the effects on the environment have been much greater than ever predicted.”

The State Government has been pursuing a policy of encouraging private sector investment in power generation in regional and remote areas since 1998, in a bid to cut the $41 million in losses incurred each year by Western Power to do the job.

The policy also seeks to avoid saddling the public purse with the high capital costs of replacing old equipment and unreliable power supplies that do not have the capacity to handle projected growth.

In State Parliament last month, Mr. Barnett said the West Kimberley region accounted for $17.7 million of the $41 million total losses and most of this ($10.6 million) was attributable to Broome, which represents 80 per cent of the region’s total demand for electricity.

He also said Broome suffered from an acute shortage of power and it was estimated it would not have enough electricity for the summer of 2001/02.

Tidal Energy Australia’s chief executive officer, Peter Wood says the company’s proposal has been given environmental approval subject to certain conditions and he finds it “difficult to understand’’ opposition on this ground.

He also revealed the company has offered to repay public money invested in the proposal.

For Mr. Barnett, however, the issue is whether any money should be invested.

“People grin and say, ‘well, it’s Federal Government money’.

“I am sorry, but it is not. It is my money, it is the members’ money, it is the money of the Aussie battlers and the small businesses paying taxes.

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