22 October 2013 — On face value, it seemed like a good, environmentally friendly project.
Last month, The Fifth Estate, along with plenty of other websites, reported that the world’s first tidal power station that could produce uninterrupted energy would start construction in Australia’s Kimberley region early next year.
The Derby Tidal Power project would supply 40 megawatts of renewable energy to the mining industry.
Developer, Tidal Energy Australia’s managing director Brian Rourke, who was pushing the line that he was a speaker at the All-Energy Conference in Melbourne, said the station could “revolutionise the Kimberley”.
So what’s not to like? Up went the good news.
And then we read a comment from a reader who said we had been “sold a pup”.
Now, The Fifth Estate likes puppies, and other cute animals, but we don’t like greenwash, so we dug a little deeper and found that over west, environmentalists are saying that any benefits from generating power without fossil fuels will be wiped out by the destruction of some of Derby’s mangrove ecosystem.
Greens Mining and Pastoral MLC Robin Chapple, which takes in Derby, is totally opposed to the project.
In July, Mr Chapple told the ABC: “I think we need to go back and actually understand that this is not tidal power, this is hydropower. It’s damming a creek system and therein lays a number of major problems, which in most cases were identified by the EPA as being significant”.
Also reported on the ABC was that for TEA’s plans to work, with a system of barrages and reservoirs built around the tidal creek system north of Derby to allow water to continuously flow through turbines and generate power, it would be necessary to modify the natural creek system.
WA Premier Colin Barnett, whose government is now behind the project, said in 2000 as State Energy Minister, that it “it fell well-short on financial grounds, on technical grounds, even the environmental claims are questionable”.
Now WA Environment Minister Albert Jacob says the project is an exciting proposal.
“It’s a true renewable energy, in fact a baseload renewable energy source and quite a significant one,” he said.
Meanwhile, Environs Kimberley lists six major concerns on its website including:
1500 hectares of mangrove communities destroyed.
The proponent says that 2300ha of mangroves would be regrown but the EPA has challenged this and stated:
“Due to the larger loss of mangroves associated with the proposed variations and the continued uncertainty associated with the proponent’s predictions on mangrove regeneration responses, it is appropriate for the EPA to reiterate its conclusion from Bulletin 942 that the EPA’s objective for mangroves cannot be met.”
Damage to a proposed nature reserve
The Department of Conservation and Land Management has expressed serious concerns about the potential negative on the proposed nature reserve:
“CALM expressed concern over the potential impact on the proposed nature reserve from changes in surface and groundwater flow patterns.”
Dust storms in Derby
The Environmental Protection Authority:
“Dust levels in Derby during certain times of the year, when north east winds are blowing, are already at a nuisance level. Concern has been raised that causing large areas of mudflats to become permanently dry as they would no longer be subject to tidal inundation during spring tides, would further increase the dust levels during north east winds.
“The proponent has stated that the 3 kilometre separation distance between Derby and the eastern arm of Doctors Creek would reduce the likelihood of a dust problem in Derby and that the crust of salt that would be left on the mudflats would act to seal the ground and prevent dust generation. However, the long term effectiveness of this method has been questioned.”
A number of threatened species would be at risk including freshwater sawfish (vulnerable), and the northern river shark (endangered).
The snubfin dolphin is found only in Northern Australia. They have been seen in Doctors Creek but no studies have been done by the proponent.
Lack of information
“A range of uncertainties exist in relation to the influence of the proposed project on the biological systems within the tidal flats, the two branches of Doctors Creek, the mangroves are and the area of King Sound adjacent to the barrages.
“The EPA would require further information on these current ecosystems and the potential effects of mangrove modifications and sedimentation on a range of key biological indicators and their productivity.
“These indicators would include the crabs (which are currently utilised by local people for food), the mangroves (which are dominant species), micro-organisms in the tidal flats and estuarine systems (which may reflect changes in tides and sedimentation).
“The proponent should also seek more advice from scientists who have studied similar ecosystems around the world for this selection of potential bioindicators.”
But, as we reported last month, Tidal Energy Australia managing director Brian Rourke said the station had “sign off from the state government and are waiting on the Commonwealth go ahead”.
“The mining company that will underwrite the development is now simply seeking environmental approval,” he said.
“We know there are a lot of people in the Derby area who would like power at a reasonable rate and there are many projects that can’t be green lighted because the price of power would be prohibitive. We are about to change all that.”
Interestingly, despite Mr Rourke being so keen on the project, the Tidal Energy Australia website is very light on information.
If you click the tab offering “Derby Tidal Power” it gives all of the information below. In the same resolution.
“The proposed Derby power project is a double basin system.
Total length of the barrages 5 Km
Turbines 6 X 8 MW
High basin 14 X 10m wide X 6.5m high
Low basin 8 X 10m wide X 6.5 m high
Power Output 200 GWh/annum
Carbon dioxide avoidance 27,000 tonnes / annum”
Even the Home Page offers up very little about the company, which could do with a spell check system.
Tidal Energy Australia Pty Ltd (TEA) was established in 1996 to research and develop tidal power stations in Western Australia.
In 1996 TEA obtained a grant from Energy Research and Development Corporation and together with Kaiser Engineers and Western Power we produced the Cape Keraudren Tidal Power Research and Development Review.
In 1998 Tea was invited to tender for the power supply for the West Kimberley region for which we developed the Derby Tidal Power Project. Teh (sic) prefered (sic) tenderer for this power supply was unable to deliver and the supply was re tendered in 2002. Due to unforsene (sic) circumstances we were unable to complete our tender at this time.
The project design and costing was completed in 2003 and is awaiting a suitable offtake contract for the project to go ahead. the (sic) project will use proven off the shelf equipment (sic)
In 2010 TEA obtained a licence to use the Lloyd Solar / Thermal technology which is capable of supplying base load power 24/7. It is especially suitable for customers remote from the power grid such as remote mines.
This technology stores the solar energy as high tenmperature (sic) heat and recovers the energy as required as steam.