Monday, January 12, 2009

State drops its power limits for desal plant

VICTORIA'S desalination plant has been given scope to consume more electricity, after the Brumby Government rewrote the energy efficiency limits on the controversial project.

Desalination requires significant energy to separate drinking water from salts and other wastes, and the composition of Bass Strait water will make Victoria's plant less energy efficient than plants in other Australian cities such as Perth.

Strict "performance requirements" for energy efficiency at the Wonthaggi plant were set in September's environmental effects statement. It said that annual power consumption at the plant should remain below an average 4.6 kilowatts for each kilolitre of drinking water produced.

However, when approving the EES process on Friday, Planning Minister Justin Madden appeared to water down that requirement, saying the energy efficiency standard should be merely "as low as reasonably practicable and to the satisfaction of the Environment Protection Authority".

Mr Madden rejected suggestions he was relaxing the energy efficiency standards. "It's not a weakening of the standards at all. It's probably indicating a strong advocacy for reducing emissions as much as possible in any possible form," he said.

But Environment Victoria director Mark Wakeham said it was concerning that Mr Madden had opted for the generic statement when a numerical limit would suffice.

"It's a bit like writing a blank cheque on behalf of Victorian consumers by not requiring a minimum energy performance standard," he said.

The waters off Wonthaggi are colder and more saline than those off Perth, meaning more electricity will be needed to produce each litre of drinking water at the Victorian plant.

In his report, Mr Madden conceded the plant would "entail significant greenhouse gas emissions".

The Government has promised that plant operators will have to purchase renewable energy credits to offset the electricity used in operating the plant and pumping water 80 kilometres to Cardinia Reservoir.

But the 1.4 million tonnes of emissions produced during construction of the plant will not be offset, nor will the 70,000 tonnes of emissions produced each year by decomposing wastes and deliveries.

Department of Sustainability and Environment spokesman Greg Meyer said the offsets for the desalination project would be in addition to Victoria's existing renewable energy targets.

But it remains unclear whether the offsets will be in addition to all renewable energy targets across Australia.

A Government panel hired to review the EES process recently urged the Government to better clarify its offsets program for the project, and to ensure there was no double accounting.

Environment Minister Gavin Jennings yesterday defended revelations that Victoria produced 2.2 tonnes more of greenhouse emissions in 2008 than in 2007.

NSW reduced its emissions over the same period, according to a report by the climate group.

Despite the report being released annually, Mr Jennings urged Victorians to focus on a period stretching back to 2000, during which emissions growth in Victoria was slower than in NSW and Queensland. He said investment in renewable energy schemes in Victoria had slowed because investors were waiting for the introduction of federal schemes, such as emissions trading in 2010.

Opposition environment spokesman David Davis said the Government had failed to live up to its rhetoric on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

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