Today’s Courier-Mail has a report pushing the Beattie Government’s plans for new dams, and threatening financial ruin if they aren’t built. Crucial quote:
As its efforts to win approval for the controversial Traveston Crossing Dam in the Mary River Valley move into top gear, the Government has used a consultant’s report on possible economic losses to the region to push its case for the project.
The lack of new water sources could end up costing southeast Queensland at least $55 billion and perhaps as much as $110 billion by 2020, according to the consultants ACIL Tasman.
Even before this episode, the name ACIL Tasman wasn’t one that filled me with confidence. All consultants like to produce reports that support their client’s preferred position, and my experience of ACIL Tasman is that the approach to this outcome is “whatever it takes”.
I haven’t been able to find the report yet, but the numbers seem way off-beam to me. This report says that the total revenue for SEQ Water and sewerage businesses was about $1.4 billion in 2005/06, growing at about 6 per cent a year. ACIL Tasman wants us to believe that limits on additional supplies could cost between $5 billion and $10 billion a year.
I find this implausible, at least as an economically meaningful cost estimate. A doubling of water prices would be enough to reduce demand significantly over time (even allowing for underlying growth in population and income), and make all sorts of supply options, such as desalination, economically feasible, without any need for new dams. The welfare cost of this would be around 0.5 billion a year (I’ll do a proper check on this number later). So, I’d say ACIL Tasman is out by a factor of 10 to 20.
I haven’t seen enough information to determine whether the proposed dams pass the cost-benefit test. But this report makes me think the case must be pretty weak.