We are calling on the Australian government to refuse approval for the Derby Tidal Power project: it is a proposal from the 1950’s that would cause significant environmental destruction.

This type of tidal power which requires barrages across embayments is not environmentally benign. This is essentially a dam that would kill off 1,500 hectares of mangroves in one of the Kimberley’s most sensitive marine environments. King Sound has internationally significant geo-heritage and its mangrove systems are the engines of marine life providing nurseries for Barramundi and Mud Crabs.

Local fisherfolk have reported that Doctor’s Creek can contain thousands of juvenile Barramundi after the wet season as well as Dugong and Snubfin dolphins. Critically endangered sawfish are also known from Doctor’s Creek.

The proponent has stated that mangroves will grow back elsewhere but has provided no evidence of this.

Modern tidal power projects can harness the tides through new technology tied to the sea floor - they don’t need to have dams or barrages.

King Sound mangrove system

Doctor's Creek mangrove system would be destroyed if a barrage was built. Photo: Martin Pritchard

“This project was first put forward in the 1990s when it was rejected by the EPA, it was rejected by Colin Barnett when he was the Energy Minister and Prime Minister John Howard refused to back it,” said Environs Kimberley Director of Strategy Martin Pritchard.

“This proposal has failed to get up over the past 25 years due to the fact that it's environmentally damaging and economically risky. It’s time to move on and accept that this project is unacceptable and that we have much less damaging and cheaper ways of generating electricity,” said Mr Pritchard.

A report (Kimberley Clean Energy Roadmap) by renewable energy experts, Sustainable Energy Now, showed that most of the Kimberley could be powered by clean energy at a cost of $449 million. This would have a much better return on investment than putting $375 million into tidal power near Derby.

Investing in sustainable energy across the West Kimberley from Broome to Halls Creek using proven technology like solar, batteries and wind would save $45 million a year and provide 180 jobs.

Expert advice has also raised the prospect of the barrage failing or sinking into the deep mud of King Sound.

“The Derby Tidal Power project doesn’t make sense from an environmental, technical or financial viewpoint, it’s time this project was off the table and for the Kimberley to move into a clean energy future.”

ABC News 21 July 2023: $375m Derby tidal power project likely dead in the water after a decade-long delay


Appendix 1

EPA rejection

The EPA rejected this proposal in 1999 (Bulletin 942), they said:

“…the EPA considers that there is still a significant degree of uncertainty over the environmental management aspects of and likely outcomes for several of the factors regarded by the EPA as being very important. These uncertainties are associated with the regeneration responses of the mangroves and associated ecosystems in the manner predicted by the proponent as well as the sedimentation problems which may become unmanageable. The combination of these uncertainties, if they were realised, together with the impact on the geo-morphological attributes of Doctors Creek would lead to the overall environmental consequences of the proposal being unacceptable.

The EPA’s judgement is that the environmental impacts, uncertainties and risks associated with the proposal at the proposed location are significant and are of such nature that the proposal should not be implemented.”

As far as we are aware, the EPA has not changed its view.

Energy Minister Colin Barnett Rejection

The proposal was rejected by Minister for Energy Colin Barnett in 2000 when he said:

"...it fell well-short on financial grounds, on technical grounds, even the environmental claims are questionable."

Further, on the 3rd April, 2003 in the WA parliament, Mr Barnett said:

Some prominent people in the Liberal Party, particularly federal politicians, supported the Derby tidal power project. It is interesting to note who did not support it. The Australian Greenhouse Office did not. The premier group for research into and funding of renewable projects did not support the Derby tidal power project because it did not have good environmental credentials. The renewable energy sector in Western Australia did not support the Derby tidal power project because it was a massive project with huge projected cost blow-outs that would have produced minimal gains in averting greenhouse gas emissions. It also failed technically. Its prime job was to provide a power supply to the Kimberley. That project has now fallen over, virtually without comment from anyone, including the media.

When he was Energy Minister, Colin Barnett was so opposed to the project that at one point he threatened to resign if Cabinet supported it. 

COLIN BARNETT: To put - I would suggest up to a hundred, if not more - $100 million or more would be required for this project and all that does is allow it to produce electricity for the same cost of other projects that don't require any subsidy. So you've got to ask the question - why would you put up to $100 million into one particular speculative development project by a private company when others can do it without any subsidy and produce probably a better result?