28 February 2024

Industry and SA Government to partner on further Northern Water studies and planning

| Andrew McLaughlin
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Woomera pipeline

The pipeline would run 600 km from the Eyre Peninsula to the state’s remote north. Photo: Government of South Australia.

An ambitious plan to bring fresh water to Australia’s outback is one step closer, with the South Australian Government reaching an agreement with industry to fund further studies, planning and negotiations to inform a final investment decision on the Northern Water project in the state’s north.

The Northern Water project seeks to supply fresh water to the state’s arid north via a 260-megalitre a day desalination plant located on the Eyre Peninsula, and a 600-kilometre long pipeline.

The plan is for the desalination plant to be built in two stages – each providing 130 ML. Four sites on the Eyre Peninsula have been shortlisted for the plant, with Cape Hardy on the peninsula’s east coast the site most of the focus is on.

The plant will comprise a seawater intake system, a pre-treatment system to filter particles and debris, a reverse osmosis process, water storage for desalinated water, and outfall pipes for concentrated seawater to return to the ocean. The plant will be powered by renewable energy.

An SA Government release says a business case has found the project has the potential to generate more than $5 billion in annual economic benefit and 4000 ongoing jobs by facilitating further development of industries crucial to the global decarbonisation effort, including copper, hydrogen and green iron, along with defence, pastoral, and community uses.

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Premier Peter Malinauskas says representatives from major companies – including BHP, Origin Energy, Amp Energy and Fortescue Energy – have agreed to co-fund with government the $230 million stage of investigations, ahead of a final investment decision on the project due in 2026.

The investigations in the lead-up to the final investment decision include project planning, design and assessment activities. These include evaluation of the overall environmental, social and economic impact of the project via an environmental impact statement, and a formal tender process and development of agreed contract terms with a preferred contractor to design, build, operate and maintain the plant and pipeline.

Also to be completed are approvals including Native Title, development approval and other land access agreements for the plant and pipeline, and engagement with stakeholders and the community to ensure risks and opportunities are properly understood and addressed.

Mr Malinauskas said the announcement signalled a new era for the state as it laid the groundwork for the sustainable industrialisation of South Australia.

“We have all the ingredients the world economy needs as it takes the necessary steps to decarbonise – copper, magnetite, a burgeoning hydrogen industry, the world’s best coincident wind and solar resource, and already world-leading renewable energy penetration,” he said.

“The missing ingredient is water.

“The commencement of formal studies marks the next step towards a long-term and committed relationship between industry and government,” he added.

“We look forward to progressing this important work ahead of a final decision on Northern Water in the first half of 2026.”

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BHP Asset President, Copper South Australia Anna Wiley said the Northern Water Supply Project was strategic infrastructure with the potential to benefit multiple sectors and businesses.

“We are pleased to partner with government and others in industry to progress further studies as we work towards a commercially sound, multi-user water project,” she said.

“Global demand for copper is growing fast, and the opportunity for South Australia is significant.

“BHP has created an integrated copper province that we hope will bring the scale required to economically and sustainably produce and process more copper here in SA and deliver it to global customers,” she added.

“The Northern Water Supply Project will support our South Australian copper operations and growth ambitions.”

Fortescue Energy CEO Mark Hutchinson added, “Partnering with government on this desalination project lets us continue with the early scoping phase of our proposed Integrated Port Bonython Hydrogen project.”

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