The decision to build Sydney Desalination Plant was made in 2007 by the NSW Government in response to drought conditions that had seen Sydney’s dam levels fall to 34 per cent capacity.
Sydney Desalination Plant History
The project was funded by the NSW Government and was originally owned by Sydney Water Corporation (SWC). Construction took three years from 2007 to 2010. A purpose built wind farm was constructed by Infigen Energy (now Iberdrola Australia) to provide 100 per cent renewable energy for the plant.
The first desalinated drinking water was delivered to Sydney in February 2010. The plant then ran continuously for two years, from 2010 to 2012, to prove plant capacity and reliability.
The NSW Government sold a 50 year lease on the plant in June 2012 backed by a 50 year water supply contract with SWC. The bid was won by a consortium that is now Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and the Morrison & Co managed Utilities Trust of Australia (UTA) at a cost of $2.3 billion, which includes the plant and the pipeline connecting the plant to the water supply network.
Sydney Desalination Plant is regulated by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART).
Dam levels rose to 98 per cent in June 2012 and under the rules of the NSW Metropolitan Water Plan, the plant came offline and into water security mode (standby mode), for the next seven years.
According to our operating rules, the plant is instructed to restart when Sydney’s total metropolitan dam levels fall below 60 per cent.
Sydney Desalination Plant Timeline
Winter 2002 – Worst drought in 100 years commenced
August 2004 – Sydney desalination feasibility study announced
May 2005 – Study confirms that desalination is viable for Sydney
March 2006 – Work starts on blueprint design
December 2006 – With dam storages continuing to fall, second round tendering begins for the plant and pipeline
21 April 2008 – First piece of pipeline installed
Mid 2008 – Sydney Water signs 20 year contracts with Infigen Energy for electricity, Renewable Energy Certificates and the construction of the Capital Wind Farm
September 2009 – Testing of the pipework at high pressure in the reverse osmosis building began
19 December 2009 – Last piece of pipeline installed
18 January 2010 – Pipeline declared ‘ready for water’ after flushing and disinfection
28 January 2010 – NSW Premier Kristina Keneally and Minister for Water. Phil Costa, switch on the plant and officially send the water on its way to customers.
June 2012 – NSW Government sold 50 year lease on the plant backed by a 50 year water supply contract
June 2012 – Bid was won by a consortium of Utilities Trust of Australia (UTA), The Infrastructure Fund (TIF) and Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan at a cost of $2.3 billion, which includes the plant and pipeline
June 2012 – Sydney metropolitan combined dam levels Sydney dam levels rose to 98 per cent and under the rules of the NSW Metropolitan Water Plan, the plant came offline and entered water security mode (standby mode)
December 2015 – Tornado hit the Kurnell area causing damage to the plant. A reinstatement plan was agreed with government to repair the plant and have it ready to respond to a drought trigger by December 2018.
27 January 2019 – Sydney metropolitan combined dam levels fell below 60 per cent, thus the plant is placed in restart mode
Mid-July 2019 – Plant starts operation, producing at full capacity, an average of 250 million litres per day, or about 15 per cent of Sydney’s drinking water requirements.
March 2020 – As dam levels rise due to a major rain event and wetter conditions, the plant is asked to go into “emergency/ availability mode”, producing a small amount of water and ready to be restarted at any time. The request was made to ensure the quality of Sydney’s water supply following ash and debris from the 2019-2020 bushfires.
Current – Plant is in an availability mode that enables it to continue to be available to produce water if required to assist in maintaining water supplies to the Sydney metropolitan area .