A little bird told me that rats have eaten through the electrical cabling at Victoria’s biggest white elephant, the desalination plant located in Wonthaggi, east of Melbourne.
This is hardly a surprise given that the plant has been mothballed since 2012 and it has never delivered any water.
It’s a little bit ironic that this news should emerge as Victoria experienced an enormous deluge.
But everyone knows that the embattled Water Minister (formerly Mrs Richard Marles) put in the order for a bit of water for completely political reasons – to attempt to demonstrate that the plant is not a complete dud costing more than $3 billion (nearly twice the original budget) and WE REALLY NEED IT.
The thing that really gets my goat is that the bond holders have gotten away with highway robbery with water rates inflated for water that is not even received. The financiers completely duped the Labor government and we will be paying for this bomb for decades.
And in the meantime, the electrical cabling will have to be replaced. No doubt, the bill will be sent to taxpayers and inflate our already excessive water bills. Of course, union labour will be required to do the work – shall we call it triple time plus travel allowance?
A faulty power cable has disrupted plans to start up Victoria’s $3.5 billion desalination plant so it can deliver its first ever water order.
However Water Minister Lisa Neville promised on Friday that the 50 gigalitres of water (about a tenth of Sydney Harbour’s capacity) that is contractually due to be delivered by June 30 will still arrive on time.
In December 2011, before it was mothballed, we took an exclusive tour of Victoria’s massive Wonthaggi desalination plant.
The problems began on December 11, when the desalination plant started to power up to be ready to produce fresh water.
During the restart, a power cable triggered a circuit breaker, indicating that there was some fault with the cable, explained Ms Neville.
“We have a spare piece of equipment,” said Ms Neville, “but we are waiting for an investigation to be completed into what caused the circuit breaker to go off so as to avoid breaking the spare piece of equipment.”
Matthew Brassington, CEO of AquaSure, the company contracted to finance, design, build, operate and maintain the project for 30 years, estimated the investigation and replacement of the equipment would not take long.
According to Ms Neville, the start-up process would be set back by a month, from the end of January to the end of February, but said she has made it clear to AquaSure that the government expects the desalinated water to be delivered by June 30, in keeping with their contract.
The desalination plant has sat idle since it was finished in December 2012, but the Andrews government placed its first water order on March 6.
The order of 50 billion litres will see yearly household water bills rise by $12.
At the time, senior Labor MPs said with the asset sitting idle and much political goodwill lost over the construction, it was important to have the plant operating soon.
Ms Neville emphasised on Friday that the 50 gigalitres of water in this order would provide Melburnians with much-needed “water security”, given that the city’s water storages are not growing sufficiently to meet the demands of its citizens.
Yesterday’s rain had “absolutely no impact on our storages,” she said, adding that since the end of November, water storages have continually declined.
Melbourne’s water storages are currently at 71.4 percent, compared to 69 percent last year and 106 gigalitres below the level at the same time in 2014, when storages were 77.2 percent full, she said.
Melburnians are currently using 182 litres per day per person.
“Fifty gigalitres is a small security blanket,” she said, noting that it represents just 3 per cent of our city’s total water storages. Yet, she said, “it is a critical part of ensuring we have water security going forward.”
Ms Neville assured taxpayers that they would not pay more for their water bills until the desalination water flows, saying the government has made clear to water retailers that they must not hike prices in the interim.
“Daniel Andrews sat around the cabinet table when the decision was made to waste $24 billion on a desal plant we do not need and now does not work,” said Shadow Minister for Water Peter Walsh.
“Only a Labor Government would condemn our children and grandchildren to pay off a $24 billion desal white elephant we cannot use and do not need.”