Desalination Plant

26 Mar 2009 questionsarchive

 I seek leave to make a brief explanation before directing a question to the Minister for Urban Development and Planning on the subject of the assessment report prepared by his department into the desalination plant.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: On 3 March, in this place, the minister answered a question that one might assume was expected, in relation to the assessment prepared by him as minister into the proposed Port Stanvac desalination project. This project has been the subject of much discussion on talkback radio and, in particular, I note an interview on the afternoon of 27 February with the new Water Security Commissioner. A caller by the name of David phoned up to acquire as to the plant's carbon footprint. Commissioner Robyn McLeod said:

My understanding is that the government has committed that it will be powered by renewable power...

David responded:

What? Wind power?

And the Commissioner replied:

Well, some form of renewable power or some system like that ... my understanding is that is what the policy position is ...

Section 4.2 of the assessment report 'State Government Policy' refers to targets within the State Strategic Plan, the Planning Strategy for Metropolitan Adelaide and the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges Natural Resources Management Plan. There is no reference in there to energy consumption or sources of energy; this is dealt with in a completely separate section on environmental assessment, which is part 6 where, on page 48, it states:

The EIS is unclear as to how carbon neutrality will be achieved. As a result the EIS is unclear about the total greenhouse footprint for the plant.

My questions to the minister are:

1. Does he accept that the Water Security Commissioner was incorrect or at least does not understand what the government policy is?

2. Given that the government could not reach any conclusion as to the plant's footprint, is it a credible claim that it will be carbon neutral?

3. At what level was that so-called policy decision made to describe the plant as carbon neutral; was it the Premier's office, was it the Minister for Urban Development and Planning, or was it one of minister Maywald's agencies?

The Hon. P. HOLLOWAY (Minister for Mineral Resources Development, Minister for Urban Development and Planning, Minister for Small Business) (14:30): The Port Stanvac desalination plant is the responsibility of my colleague the Minister for Water Security. It is her office, of course, that put up the proposals for that desalination plant. It was put up, of course, as a major project and it was assessed through the Department of Urban Development and Planning as a major project. My job as the minister on that was to ensure that the desalination plant assessment was successfully undertaken and to ensure that it was a proper process.

The advice that I have is that the electricity to power the plant will be supplied from the grid but sourced from renewable energy sources. If the honourable member has any specific questions in relation to the specifics of the operation of that plant, I am happy to refer those through to the appropriate minister but, as far as my responsibilities go, I am satisfied that the environmental impact statement has met the appropriate standards to ensure that the Port Stanvac plant will not just adequately meet the needs of this state for water but it will do so in a way that has minimal impact upon the environment.

As I said, if the honourable member has particular questions, I am happy to refer the details but, in relation to her latter question, it is certainly not the Department of Urban Development and Planning that is responsible for the description of this plant. Clearly, my job as minister is simply to assess the environmental impact statement of that plant, but it is up to SA Water, as the proponent of the plant, to put the proposals up.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (14:32): I have a supplementary question. Is the minister stating that this policy decision was taken within SA Water and, if not, will he give a commitment to come back to this place and advise specifically which level of government and agency made that policy decision? Will he also bring back some verifications from the relevant minister as to the carbon neutrality claims?

The Hon. P. HOLLOWAY (Minister for Mineral Resources Development, Minister for Urban Development and Planning, Minister for Small Business) (14:32): In an assessment of the desalination plant, certainly, one may wish to consider policy issues in relation to the energy. I would suggest that they are not necessarily relevant to the major concerns in relation to a desalination plant. The major issues in relation to that environmental impact statement, of course, relate to the discharge of brine into the marine environment. I think everyone would agree that that is an issue.

We all know that desalination plants consume large amounts of electricity and, clearly, we need broader policies in relation to reducing our carbon footprint in electricity generation. I am mindful of the fact that, as a state, we have a much lower footprint—I think it is about 4½ per cent (small relative to our population)—compared to other states. Because most of our electricity in the state is generated from gas and the very high level of wind power we have here, we do have a relatively low carbon footprint in relation to electricity generation.

We can argue about those issues in policy terms, but in relation to the environmental impact of the plant, as I said, the major issue in relation to that statement is of course the impact upon the marine environment. I think most people have been addressing those issues. It is interesting how members opposite, who like to claim credit for having thought of the idea of a desalination plant, now, like with everything else they do, appear to be backing away from support for it.

Members interjecting:

The Hon. P. HOLLOWAY: Well, of course. If you are powering a desalination plant, electricity will be supplied from the grid, but it is a matter of whether that is sourced from renewable energy sources. One of the initiatives of this government is to try to promote the take-up of renewable energy in this state. Yesterday, in answer to a question, I talked about the Panax development in the South-East, which is a very promising geothermal prospect. That development could be in operation within the next two or three years and, being on the main grid, it could produce significant power from geothermal sources.

That is the way we need to go forward. The fact is that we need water, and that water will require electricity. This state also needs a policy to increase the amount of renewable energy in this state. If you put those two things together, that is how we will get the good outcome. The honourable member may nit-pick all she likes in relation to—

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink interjecting:

The Hon. P. HOLLOWAY: Well, as I said, it will be sourced from—

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink interjecting:

The Hon. P. HOLLOWAY: Who says it's not true? What we know is that the desal plant will use electricity, and this state will generate sufficient renewable energy to cover that electricity requirement.