The Kimberley region of WA seems to generate the kind of stories that captures the imagination of all Australians.
The proposal to build the world's first continuous tidal power station that could save 20 million tonnes carbon dioxide and meet around 50 percent of WA's commitment to renewable energy is classic case in point.
But as with many West Australian development stories, controversy and disputes are always part of the plot.
On the face of it, the WA tidal power project at Derby is conceptually simple. The remote community around Derby is currently being serviced by diesel power through Western Power's network and this supply is subsidised ($11 million a year) by the WA Government.
The tidal power project aims to build two barrages or dams across the two arms of Doctors Creek that have been formed by the tides from the King Sound leading into Derby. The tides in this area are the highest in Australia and it is proposed to build a $360 million, 48 MW hydro-electricity plant which will rise to 72 MW including 500km of transmission lines to take advantage of these tides.
There is universal agreement that new energy supplies that will service not only Derby but also Broome, Pilbara and Fitzroy and the smaller communities in this region would have immense economic benefits. Local Aboriginal communities are very much in favour of the project and have already granted native title.
The problem is: what kind of energy?
The WA Government would naturally like to use its abundant gas reserves and it has been under pressure from the politically influential gas lobby to consider bids from two consortiums to supply gas (LNG) by trucking it to the Kimberley region.
On April 12, the WA Government announced that Woodside Energy Equity had been chosen as the preferred tenderer for the Derby area power project. Through the Minister for Energy the Government asked the proponents of the tidal power project to submit a revised tender.
The Federal Government has offered a grant of $1 million for the tidal power project through the Australian Greenhouse Office.
Federal Minister for Forestry and Conservation, Wilson Tuckey has been in a slanging match with his WA colleagues for the past year claiming that the WA Government is "gas-centric". He says the Federal Government would be prepared to put up $61 million for the project.
He believes the tidal power project has the potential to be a modern day Snowy Mountains hydro scheme. In a Sydney Morning Herald article on April 13, he said the tidal power plan was "one of the proposals seen as necessary to help reach the government's goal agreed to under the Kyoto Protocol to produce 2 percent of the country's energy by renewable sources, such as hydro, solar and wind power, by 2010".
Ironically, Federal Environment Minister Robert Hill hailed the WA Government late last month as one of the leading exporters in renewable energy technology. He says Canberra has invested more than $5 million over the past two years to promote leading-edge renewable energy technology.
The tides from the King Sound still come in and go out. The idea that Australia could build one the world's largest tidal power plants (there is a smaller one in France) will remain unrealised amid competing energy agendas. Like the Ord River scheme, it is a WA story that will form part of Australia's development folklore.
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