Saturday, November 03, 2007

ALP Election Policies

As all Australian readers would know, we are approaching the federal election on November 24.

I expect that sometime during the next three weeks, the Howard Government will announce new policies building on the (very effective) National Water Commission (NWC) and associated funding programs. As I understand it, the major NWC funding programs are now essentially fully allocated so a major injection of funds will be required to sustain the role of the Commission. I’ll endeavour to take a look at any announcements as they come.

During the last two weeks, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) have announced what I presume to be their major election campaign policies regarding urban water supply. The centre piece is a $1 billion National Urban Water and Desalination Plan (NUWD Plan). This is to fund a 10% Water Tax Credit and grants for approved desalination, water recycling, and major storm water capture projects developed by the private sector, local governments, and State and Territory Governments.

Its not entirely clear (to me) how the tax credit will work. However, I assume that it means that an ALP Government would provide 10% of the up-front capital costs by allowing project proponents to keep an equivalent sum that would otherwise be required to be paid as tax.

Where the project proponent is a government-owned business that does not pay Commonwealth income tax, support from the NUWD Plan would instead be paid in cash.

Project proponents would be able to submit proposals for funding assistance up until the end of June 2009. To be eligible, projects must source 100% of their energy needs from renewable supplies or else fully offset the carbon impact of their operations using nationally accredited offsets.

There wasn’t much response from the Howard Government to this announcement. However The Greens did weigh in with Bob Brown stating that stormwater recycling and water harvesting are good ideas but desalination plants are not. Brown noted that desalination plants are “energy guzzlers” and claimed that the ALP’s plan to keep the plants carbon-neutral was unrealistic. He said “they use vast amounts of energy and if you're going to (divert) Australia's flow of wind power into these desalination plants you're simply taking it away from households and businesses elsewhere and burning more coal”

Kevin Rudd at the Gold Coast Desalination Plant

The ALP has also promised to establish a Centre of Excellence in Desalination in Perth and a Centre of Excellence in Water Recycling in Brisbane. These Centres would each be funded at $4 million per year for five years.

Universities, government agencies and other interested stakeholders will be asked to develop collaborative bids to competitively bid for the opportunity to be part of each Centre.

I haven’t seen any specific detail regarding the proposed activities of the Water Recycling Centre yet. However, the activities of the Desalination Centre of Excellence were described during a recent ALP visit to Perth:

  • Investigating ways of optimising and adapting desalination technology for optimum use in Australia’s unique circumstances;
  • Expand on research into the use of desalination technology in rural and regional areas;
  • Researching ways of efficiently and affordably reducing the carbon footprint of desalination facilities; and
  • Accelerating ground breaking research on energy efficient bulk water supply technology being developed in Australia.

These seem like very noble goals indeed. I think it is appropriate that the focus appears to be on addressing some of the existing technical limitations of seawater desalination (predominantly the energy costs and carbon footprint).

Personally, I would have added research towards achieving environmentally sustainable management of concentrated desalination brine streams. While this is extremely important for coastal areas, it is the major limiting factor for the increased uptake of brackish water desalination in inland areas. Perhaps it comes naturally under the first two dot points.

One quick pedantic point before I finish this post...

Perth’s existing seawater desalination plant at Kwinana is normally described as having a capacity of 125 megalitres per day (ML/day) or 45 gigalitres per year (GL/year). However, for some reason the ALP’s media release this week prefers US Gallons: “The Kwinana Desalination Plant already turns water from the Indian Ocean into nearly 40 million gallons of drinking water a day”. Presumably this is a result of having sourced the information from Wikipedia which states: “The Kwinana Desalination Plant, located just south of Perth, Western Australia, turns water from the Indian Ocean into nearly 40 million gallons of drinking water per day”. I guess they must be pretty busy in the ALP campaign office right now.

1 comment:

nick said...

The Australian Government is considering setting up a 'consultation blog' to give the public a chance to have their say on public policy and proposed legislation.

If you'd like to help shape this blog then do this quick survey here

www.openforum.com.au/Survey

It only takes a couple of minutes and could lead to something that really makes a difference.

Thanks.

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