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May 23, 2011

The Point Lowly desal plant that's got SA squabbling

BHP Billiton refuses to back down from its controversial plans to build a desalination plant at Point Lowly, South Australia. The plant forms part of the proposed Olympic Dam mine expansion, but fears are growing over the possible risk of significant environmental damage

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Crikey intern Esther Ooi writes: BHP Billiton refuses to back down from its controversial plans to build a desalination plant at Point Lowly, South Australia. The plant forms part of the proposed Olympic Dam mine expansion, but fears are growing over the possible risk of significant environmental damage.

“The fact is, it is just the worst place you could put a desalination plant,” Dr. Andrew Melville-Smith, chairperson of the Save Point Lowly group, told Crikey. He also says there will be severe ecological damage on Point Lowly’s recreational, coastal and living areas.

BHP recently released its Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which examined a range of environmental issues regarding the proposed desalination plant and found Point Lowly to be the most appropriate fit. Furthermore, its proximity to Olympic Dam mine, easy construction of a water pipeline and availability to land and utilities made it the most viable option for the company.

Both the Olympic Dam mine and township of Roxby Downs do not have a long-term sustainable water supply due to its isolated location, and if the mine wishes to expand it will need an alternative water supply, which the new plant would provide.

Olympic Dam is a multi-ore mine and produces copper, uranium, gold and silver. Robert Gottliebsen from Business Spectator reports that BHP has converted Olympic Dam into the most profitable mine in the world, with the worth of the ore estimated at “around $863 billion including $470 billion in copper, $270 billion in uranium, $116 billion in gold and $8 billion in silver.”

“There have been calls for us to find another location, but we’ve remained firmly convinced that from an environmental perspective, we have found the best place on the coast at Point Lowly,” said Dean Dalla Valle, BHP’s Uranium President, in a recent speech to the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia (AMCHAM). He says that independent studies by leading Australian and international experts determined that Point Lowly was the best location.

Melville-Smith disagrees, arguing that Elliston, a town 150km up east of the coast from Port Lincoln, “remains the best option.” He cites the Elliston’s lack of fishing industry as a key reason why it would be suitable because it would have minimal ecological damage. Also, the town’s landscape of high cliffs and valleys would make it a viable option to be powered by wind.

BHP’s latest statement says that the expansion would deliver enormous benefits to the South Australian economy. They project that the Olympic Dam expansion would generate up to 6,000 new jobs during its construction and create a further 4,000 fulltime positions at the open mine. It is also expected to boost South Australian revenue by several billion dollars over the project’s lifetime.

Tom Koutsantonis, SA Minister for Mineral Resource Development, told Crikey that this development would be critical in supporting the prosperity of South Australia through the rapidly expanding mining industry.

However, Melville-Smith argues that the Rann Government’s lack of foresight is being clouded by the short term financial windfall created by the mine. “It’s just the cheapest, nastiest alternative,” said Melville-Smith. “There is no planning for the future of South Australia, if it’s not in Adelaide than it doesn’t count.”

Koutsantonis continually referred to the planned industrial development as Port Bonython instead of Point Lowly. He insisted that the Rann Government had no plans to undertake industrial developments at Point Lowly, adding “I think it is a bit cute for the Save Point Lowly group to be referring to the entire area of Port Bonython as Point Lowly,” he said.

But Melville-Smith says this is another example of the Government’s dirty tactics. He said that what locals refer to as Point Lowly or Point Lowly Peninsula changed names to Port Bonython. “It’s still the same place. Just because it’s on the Port Bonython Peninsula doesn’t mean they can trash Point Lowly. Everyone continues to refer to it as the Point Lowly Peninsula, but we’ve been reduced to a speck on the map.”

In copies of Whyalla News ‘Letters to the Editor’ sent to Crikey by Melville-Smith, it shows locals referring to Port Bonython as the Point Lowly Peninsula. One reader named G. Butt from Whyalla wrote in a letter published on May 17: “Mr. Koutsantonis should check his geography. It is obvious he has not visited the area.” An anonymous contributor added on May 19: “If the minister bothered to visit Whyalla and speak to the locals, he would find that most people would have always referred to the area as Point Lowly. So making a claim that the area will not be industrialised is just trying to play tricks on the locals.”

Arguments over names and geography aside, the debate over economic versus environmental issues in the mining industry isn’t going anywhere.

Crikey Intern —

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23 thoughts on “The Point Lowly desal plant that’s got SA squabbling

  1. kd


    Like the climate change alarmists, overstating your case regarding wind turbines damages it. Here’s some apparently credible research on the matter, with the conclusion:

    [ There is a need to take the unique environment into account when planning a new wind farm so that adverse health effects are avoided. The influence of area-related factors should also be considered in future community noise research. ]

    Not so much the doom and gloom that you’re trying to sell us, more a message that engineers need to take care and pay attention to certain characteristics of the environment. Who’d have thought …

  2. Frank Campbell

    Ep: Hadn’t see that, but I’m familiar with the ridiculous Simon Chapman- the same publicy-funded propagandist who wants to licence smokers. Chapman wrote on Crikey last year quite the silliest article I’ve ever seen on wind energy (a topic about which he knows nothing whatever). I replied in detail to him then.

    As regards Pierpont and Laurie (and the string of other GPs like them around the world who happened to see turbine victims in the course of their practice), they ask continually for funded research to be done- they are not pretending to be research institutes and they had no axe to grind. They became activists only in the face of callous denialism. They are reporting widespread symptoms. I personally spoke to people who had these symptoms well before any medical evidence began to appear. Some were strongly in favour of turbines. One couple suffered greatly for several years at Waubra in silence, publicly backing the turbines. They cracked only a few months ago and have now admitted publicy what they’ve been suffering. I knew (but did not reveal to protect their privacy) that their health had been ruined. Forced to sleep in different rooms each night as the type of sound varied. Stuffed with sleeping pills and other medication, not to mention ear plugs and other devices. All ultimately futile.
    I’ve noticed a very intriguing phenomenon: some people with businesses in the blighted area (businesses dependent on tourism) ferociously defend the turbines- even though objectively they have the most to lose (both their peace of mind/ health and income).
    It’s as if by suppressing opposition (in one case with actual violence) and denying the reality to themselves they can magically negate the nightmare. But finally they fail. The horror of their situation crashes in on them. It took only a couple of years. Now they find their businesses are unsaleable. They’re trapped. Denial followed by impotent rage may lead to suicide.

    What has appalled me in the last seven years is the sheer cruelty of inner-city progressives- it is they who have unleashed this curse on defenceless people- so defenceless that they are insulted as Nimbys while their basic rights are trashed.

    The pround and cynical hypocrisy of my party, the Greens, is sickening. They loudly condemn the vicious incursions of coal seam gas corporations while vilifying the victims of wind turbines.

    At the root of this toxic hypocrisy is of course the climate cult.

    Meanwhile, the Crikey Knitting Circle applauds the wind turbine fraud. No wonder the Left is fucked.

  3. PeeBee

    Frank, I am sorry it is NOT YOUR MONEY. It is the company’s money that is being spent, not yours (unless you are a shareholder, which I am sure you are not). You’re saying you will pay when you buy the electricity that it produces. Well that is another furphy. You don’t have to buy anything you don’t want to. Live on candles and open fires if you prefer not to pay for wind power generated electricity, it is your choice.

    I must apologise Frank for thinking you don’t like the look of wind turbines. I didn’t realise you can’t see them from your place. And I have to admit, I based this conclusion on everything you have written, but agree you have never said they are ugly.

    For your information, there is nothing new in negative power pricing. It already happens here in Australia. Currently the price of electricity can range from negative $1,000 to positive $12,500 per megawatt. Saying that it was introduced to penalise wind power is just plain wrong. The negative price can apply to all forms of electricity generation.

    As for claiming Crikey is a platform for for climate millenarianism is again wrong. I give you yourself as a case in point. You have been given a fair and reasonable run for a long time. You are starting to complain about the messenger when YOU don’t like what you are reading despite the fact that you’ve been happily dishing it out for some time.

    As for If you’ve got nothing to say, don’t say it. What you mean to say is that you don’t like reading stuff you don’t agree with. If you think I have nothing to say, just skip my posts. I do with most of the crap that you write.

    You clearly know little about wind energy errr excuse me. You are the one coming up with unsubstantiated drivel and peddling it as truth.

  4. kd

    Dealing with intermittent power sources in an environment where backup backbone is required in certain conditions isn’t the unsolvable problem that Frank says it is. It’s covered by stochastic optimisation algorithms – there are no major scientific issues outstanding for that kind of thing to work, it’s just a requirement for computer programmers with strong mathematical skills to partner with engineers. And if you have reasonably accurate short term weather forecasts (like we do), the optimisation issue becomes much easier to deal with in any case

    This is also exactly why fossil fuel infrastructure needs to move from coal to gas ASAP as an interim measure. As well as much lower emissions intensity the physical setup of the infrastructure makes it much more responsive to changes in demands.

    While preparing for the interim we also need big time investments in things like geothermal, solar thermal with heat storage (Salt/Graphite composite seems to be the most likely winning technology here) and weaning the engineers off monolithic centralised monoculture infrastructure.

    Frank’s getting the social issues relating to wind power (and capitalism and land ownership) utterly confused with the technical issues.

  5. Frank Campbell


    I get my information about the wind fraud direct from the source: seven years of observation and interviews. Like everyone else, I started with the assumption that wind was useful and that there may simply be some siting and compensation problems. The reality is very different.

    PB, you don’t seem to know how wind companies operate: they sign large landowners up in secret, gagging them contractually and permanently. Once they’ve got the required number (as few as one or perhaps over a dozen in the case of huge wind installations like Waubra), they hold propaganda sessions. I’ve been to many. They refuse to hold public meetings- they will only discuss one-to-one. Divide and rule. They also target weak, mendicant shires, grooming councillors and ensuring they have plants on council. The local papers are then flooded with advertisements claiming that turbines represent “development”, “jobs”, “progress” etc. There’s no mention of the fact that poor rural areas depend on tourism and tree-change incomers- both put off by turbines. There are almost zero jobs in wind- and if an entire region becomes infested, there will be a net loss.They also claim that each plant will “produce enough energy to power x thousand homes” etc. These assertions are false- in fact every claim they make is either a distortion or an outright lie. Wind cannot power a single lightbulb 24/7 and must be backed up 100% with fossil fuel.

    As for waste of capital, you’re missing the point. The govt. spruiks “$22 billion” to be spent on wind in the next few years. That’s big money. Wasted.

    Then there’s corporate fascism. Waubra is the model. The community is destroyed. A tiny handful of beneficiaries patrol the area daily in conjunction with company employees. Cameras are mounted on car roofs to film anyone suspicious. I was blocked on a road by one of these thugs two years ago. Death threats and physical attacks occur. One disability pensioner was attacked twice during a one-man demo on the side of the highway. They threatened to shoot him, after beating him up. Ballarat police wanted to press charges, but the victim was too afraid to do so. There’s no protection on rural properties…

    As for the health effects, I’ve interviewed many people about this. There is now evidence worldwide of serious heart and blood pressure impacts- this is attested to by many GPs, and research into it has begun. Infrasound is the likely cause.

  6. Frank Campbell

    “If the minister bothered to visit Whyalla and speak to the locals, he would find that most people would have always referred to the area as Point Lowly. So making a claim that the area will not be industrialised is just trying to play tricks on the locals.”

    Thi “Whyalla News” correspondent is correct. BHP and the SA govt are relying on two things (a) hardly anyone outside SA has heard of Pt Lowly- and not many inside SA have either, so manipulating/distorting names can be politically effective. (b) no one in Adelaide gives a stuff about Whyalla: it has always been regarded as a distant, alien accretion composed of wogs, stroppy Marxist Glaswegians and red dust. Since I researched BHP and the town for in the late 70s and 80s, Whyalla has deindustrialised and shrunk to half the size it once was. It is even less attractive now to the 80% of SA’s population who live in the Adelaide region than it was then. Just a smaller Siberia.

    The upper Spencer Gulf is a unique ecosystem. It is the spawning ground for giant cuttlefish, prawns and many other species. It is shallow, warm and has an extremely low rate of replenishment from the open sea. Marine ecologist Professor Peter Fairweather said in 2007 “It would become a very nasty place for a lot of organisms’ if a desal plant went ahead.

    BHP has a long history of pollution in the upper Spencer Gulf (and everywhere else). This project, if built at all, should be placed much closer to the open ocean.

    Desal plants use staggering amounts of electricity. A dmaned good reason not to build them. Yet this what Green left said in 2007 about this scheme:

    ” Naturally, the energy requirements of desalination should be met from renewable sources. This is hardly a problem, since the hills behind Port Bonython are noted for their stiff, regular sea breezes. ”

    This idiocy is repeated in the Crikey piece, referring to possible siting at Elliston :”the town’s landscape of high cliffs and valleys would make it a viable option to be powered by wind.”

    Ignorance of wind turbine technology cripples the Green Left and makes it easy meat for extractive capitalist thugs like BHP and the nuclear lobby. To think that an energy-guzzler like a desal plant can be driven by hopelessly unpredictable wind turbines which would be lucky to manage 25% load factor is fantasy.
    Not to mention the nasty environmental impacts of wind turbines (spinning at 270 kph with a bladespan the size of a cricket oval) on local residents and the environment.

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