Minister seeks review of Gold Coast desalination operation

Queensland’s minister for energy and water supply, Mark McArdle, said on 5 May 2012 that he was closely examining all options on the future of the Gold Coast Desalination Plant to save taxpayer losses on the 125,000 m³/d project.

“It doesn’t operate to its full capacity and keeping it idle is costing millions,” McArdle said. “The operating cost of the plant this financial year to the end of April has been Aus$ 14.2 million (US$ 13.8 million).”

The minister added that operating the plant in ‘hot standby’ mode saved about Aus$ 10 million (US$ 9.7 million) a year, compared with continuous operation at one-third capacity. However, it created additional asset risks, as the plant was not designed to go through frequent stop/start cycles.

He had therefore requested a review to fully evaluate how best to use the efficiency and effectiveness of the plant in the short to long term.

McArdle said that, in 2004, the Gold Coast City Council planned for a 50,000 m³/d desalination plant at Tugun to counter water supply shortages on the Gold Coast. The previous government almost tripled the scale to 125,000 m³/d.

“The previous government inflated its capacity beyond its needed functional optimum and, when the drought ended, its use came under question,” McArdle said.

The minister did acknowledge that the desalination plant proved its value during the January 2011 flood by keeping Brisbane supplied with drinking water.

“I understand, however, that the supply could have done so with its original 50,000 m³/d capacity,” McArdle said.

The plant is operated under an alliance between Seqwater, Veolia Water Australia and John Holland Pty Ltd.