NSW Independent MP Justin Field has warned that the proposal by NSW Environment Minister Matt Keen to set a target of a 35% reduction in the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 is at risk if the planned expansion of water desalination across the state is not powered by renewable energy.
Mr Field said, “Desalination is hugely energy intensive and will produce significant greenhouse gas emissions if powered by coal. The new and expanded desalination plants currently being considered in Sydney, the Illawarra and the Hunter could consume as much as 615GWh of electricity a year.”
“If these plants were all powered by coal, it would produce 615,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, the equivalent of adding more than 250,000 cars to the road. This is a huge step in the wrong direction when the challenge of bringing down emissions is already big enough.
“If the Government is serious about reducing emissions it needs to commit to powering these plants with renewable energy. It would be a perverse outcome for a drought response like desalination to be powered by coal or gas which are driving climate change and worsening droughts, Mr Field said”
When the Sydney Desalination Plant was announced in 2007, the Government signed a 20 year deal with Infigen which underwrote the construction of the 130MW Capital Wind Farm. The current capacity of the Sydney Desalination Plant is 250 million litres a day. The expansion of the Sydney plant and proposals for a second plant (possibly in the Illawarra), and an emergency smaller plant in the Hunter would potentially add an additional 515 million litres a day.
Mr Field has also criticised the NSW Water Minister for misrepresenting the cost to customers from renewable energy in defending the failure to commit to renewable to power desalination.
“In an interview on ABC radio following the announcement, NSW Water Minister Melinda Pavey said, “It’s that green energy that drives the desalination plant currently. But that’s a more expensive energy,” and “We do have good coal in NSW, comparatively, and it does provide electricity at a better price … we should be very cognisant of the impact on the bills of people across Sydney.”
“The Minister is being grossly misleading”, Mr Field said.
“New renewable capacity is cheaper than new coal fired power and the only reason power from existing coal might be considered cheaper is because it is not paying the price for the climate and environmental damage it is doing.
“Ask people who have just lost homes, and farms and stock to drought or fires the cost of failing to deal with coal emissions.
“How can the public take seriously the Government’s emissions reduction commitment when they could potentially be propping up ageing coal plants with the electricity demand from desalination. With two of the state’s coal-fired power stations due to reach their end of life by 2030, now is the time to be leveraging desalination to underwrite public or private investment in renewable energy, Mr Field said.