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Why LNP sees electoral gold in CQ dam that may never be built

When Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce announced funding of $480 million for the Urannah Dam project he was really talking about coal and there is no bigger issue in central Queensland than coal.

 

Mar 21, 2022, updated Mar 21, 2022
Barnaby Joyce has given the LNP a focal point in central Queensland. (Image: ABC).

Barnaby Joyce has given the LNP a focal point in central Queensland. (Image: ABC).

On any reasonable assessment the Collinsville coal-fired power station Joyce has been able to talk about has no chance of being built, so Urannah is a nice alternative issue for the hustings at the upcoming election because it is really about coal.

The dam has also been assessed as having a financial benefit to the mining industry of more than $500 million. Agriculture would also benefit by as much as $770 million.

A report by Bowen Collinsville Enterprise said the Urannah Dam would potentially supply up to 10,000 megalitres a year for the further development of the Bowen Basin coal industry. 

So in LNP politics, Urannah is gold. It’s a banner issue for the highly sensitive issues of coal and water in central Queensland, a region which swung dramatically to the LNP at the last election when Adani and the Greens became a focal point.

But the investment in Urannah, which has been a dream for central Queensland for about 60 years, is not just the $480 million Joyce announced. In total it’s about $3 billion when the associated pumped storage hydro and irrigation schemes are added.

The dam alone is uncommercial so it needs the pumped hydro and irrigation to bring in the private sector funding.

It has the potential to significantly alter the region, both economically and geographically with the 20,000ha irrigation scheme bringing the potential for fruit and cotton farming for the export market.

A BDO report on the dam alone said the net present value of the dam was $1.35 billion comprising capital expenditure of $1.3 billion and operating costs of $56 million.

“The total present value of benefits is $1.285 billion, comprising agricultural benefits of $727.22 million, mining benefits of $555.77 million, and recreational benefits of $2.05 million.

The BDO report claims miners would subscribe to Urannah water because compared to groundwater, Urannah water had significantly higher reliability.

It’s a massive amount of money and the Federal Government funds are a significant benefit because the private sector values governments having skin the game. But there is no certainty it will go ahead because it still needs approval from both levels of government.

The current owners of the project, Bowen River Utilities, also have to raise the remaining capital from the markets.

“We have global fund managers that stand ready to inject the equity into the (dam) project. We have equity partners for the dam and we are securing equity partners for the pumped storage. That is all private funding,’’ BRU’s chief executive James Benjamin said.

This year BRU will deliver an environmental impact statement which will be an addition to an existing detailed business case.

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“In terms of the EIS we have that underway and that will be delivered mid-year and go out for public consultation,’’ Benjamin said.

“What we are finding is that it will have significant environmental benefits.

“The agri precinct will be upwards of 20,000ha and they have the potential to grow a variety of different crops. We will design the precinct so that it has best practice farming and that means that it will improve outcomes for the Great Barrier Reef.

“At the moment the area is under utilised and it is a significant polluter to the reef. We will design the precinct to mitigate those impacts.

“We will be able to demonstrate that farming on the Great Barrier Reef is viable.’’

However, the Mackay Conservation Group’s report on the project said its environmental cost was conservatively about $270 million and that it would inundate 10,000ha of habitat. 

“The Federal Government has obviously looked at the broader public benefit and the jobs it will create and affordable clean green energy and diversifying the economy,’’ Benjamin said.

“There is a heavy orientation to the resources sector up there and this is a project that provides diversification.’’

The pumped hydro scheme would eventually be 1400 megawatts and timed for the end of the decade when Callide B’s 700 Mw is expected to be retired.

The Bowen Collinsville Enterprise report said the Urannah Dam could also supply additional water to enable the future expansion of the Collinsville Power Station (currently producing 180 MW baseline power).

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