Sydney desalination provides water security for price of a coffee

An Australian desalination industry leader has slammed political criticism of the cost of keeping a major Sydney facility on standby. Chief executive of the National Centre of Excellence in Desalination Australia, Neil Palmer said the plant provided every household “a key climate-independent water source to last for the next 100 years for less than the cost of one cappuccino per week.”

Speaking to D&WR Palmer said: “The fixed costs of $500,000 per day sound high but spread over Sydney’s population of 4.5 million they work out to around 11 cents per day per person.  For an average household of three people, the weekly cost is $2.30.” This he said provided “insurance against any future water restrictions.” 

“Everybody knows that there will be more droughts in future,” Palmer said. 

The plant at Kurnell was built following severe droughts in in the region. Palmer said apart from the small Shoalhaven pumping system, there had been no major water supply infrastructure built in Sydney since Warragamba was finished in 1960. Since then the population had increased by more than 50% Palmer said. 

Outspoken critic of the cost of the Kurnell plant, Greens MP John Kaye, called also for a decrease in the reservoir level that would trigger the restart of production at the facility from 70% of full capacity to 40%.

Palmer argued that the level should be increased to 80%. He dismissed the proposal of a lower level as “based on the assumption that the desalination plant has two speeds; on or off” when a range of flows down to 25% were possible.

“Running at low flow when the dams are at 80% will slow the rate of decline of the dams in much the same way as water restrictions would have previously.  When the levels reduce to 70% the plant should be running at 100%,” said Palmer.