US$ 2.9 billion Melbourne desalination contract goes to Degremont group

The Suez/Degremont-led consortium Aquasure has been awarded the contract to build the 150 million m³/year seawater desalination plant for Melbourne, Australia.

The Aus$ 3.5 billion (US$ 2.88 million) contract guarantees to deliver desalinated water by the end of 2011.

Announcing the award on 30 July 2009, Victoria state premier John Brumby said the plant, to be sited at Wonthaggi, was critical to securing water supplies for Melbourne, Geelong and towns in Western Port and South Gippsland. "Our government is committed to Victoria's desalination project because we must deliver a solution that is not rainfall dependent in an era of climate change," he said.

The Aquasure consortium of Suez Environnement and Degremont from France, and Thiess and Macquarie Capital Group from Australia, beat the Bass Water consortium of Veolia, John Holland and the Royal Bank of Scotland. The plant will have the capacity to increase production to 200 million m³/year if required.

Victoria water minister Tim Holding said the bidders had been able to secure finance for the project in the most challenging economic climate since the Great Depression. "AquaSure will now seek to diversify its investor base, with the Victorian government providing a treasurer's guarantee of syndication. This means the state will be a lender of last resort if required, at commercial rates," he said.

Holding added that Victoria has set high international standards for the project with strict environmental safeguards as well as undersea inlet and outlet tunnels to minimise the impact on marine life. An independent reviewer and environmental auditor will ensure quality design and environmental protection.

"AquaSure has committed to develop, in partnership with AGL, the Oaklands Hill 63MW wind farm near Glenthompson which will create 200 new jobs," he revealed. An underground cable will carry the power largely along the route of the 86km transfer pipeline that will connect the plant with Melbourne's water grid. It will be also accompanied by a broadband fibre-optic cable.

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