A Damming Idea

Tinaroo Dam Spillway (Source: ABC News)

Constrained water supplies in Far North Queensland are hindering economic development and can threaten water security of a number of towns. Inaction on supply has been driven by feasibility, concerns, funding gaps and worries about environmental sustainability. (1) In addition, politics focussing narrowly on dams as the supply solution runs the risk of missing other smart infrastructure and demand management opportunities to improve supply apart from just bulk storage. (2) Project proponents are also challenged often challenged by a user pay model required by the National Water Initiative. (3)

A strong evidence base of economically viable, financially feasible and prudently sustainable investments is needed to unlock these constraints. The balance between the public purse, private irrigator interests and environmental sustainability needs to be reset.

If considering just dams, what is an appropriate period of cost recovery? If an appraisal period is less than the economic life of the dam, usually an estimate of residual value would be included in the final year of the analysis. For example, a 25-year appraisal period for a 50-year asset, may include an asset value offset of up to 50% in the final appraisal year to ensure cost recovery over the appraisal period approximates around half of the expected use of the asset.

Similarly, where a dam is considered by policy makers to be a catalytic piece of infrastructure that supports and enables economic growth opportunities, an argument that there are economic externalities needs to be established. In effect, this means that not all the economic benefits are being captured by the users – providing a basis for partial public funding alongside expected user revenues. This externality argument is the logical basis for identifying the level of offset to user revenues. It presupposes both other uses for water as well as downstream benefits captured by non-users.

As a starting point, getting the evidence together to make the preliminary case for the residual value argument and a market failure argument around significant externalities is critical.

References:

  1. Parliamentary Library (Australia) Water Management https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/BriefingBook45p/WaterManagement
  2. For example, the Sustainable Rural Water Use and Infrastructure Program https://www.agriculture.gov.au/water/mdb/programs/basin-wide/srwuip
  3. National Water Initiative pricing principles (https://www.agriculture.gov.au/water/policy/nwi/pricing-principles)

A $7 Crossing

Kangaroo Point Pedestrian Bridge artist impression
Kangaroo Point Crossing, Artist Impression
Source: Brisbane City Council

Brisbane City Council has announced a program to construct five ‘green’ bridges across the Brisbane River. [See https://www.brisbane.qld.gov.au/traffic-and-transport/roads-infrastructure-and-bikeways/five-new-green-bridges-across-brisbane] Analysis of the crossing at Kangaroo Point appears most advanced.

There is a handy infographic on Council’s website. Unfortunately, details of how the benefits have been calculated are not publicly available.

What we do know is that Council intends to spend $190 million to build the bridge. Council believes trips per day will rise from 5,300 in 2021 to 6,100 in 2036.

Making a couple of assumptions, we can work out the level of benefit per trip required for this to cover the capital costs. First we assume a 25 year evaluation period (2020-2044) and a 7% real discount rate. We also assume the asset has a 50 year life and include an offset residual value on the capital cost. The capital cost attributable to the evaluation period is a present value of $172.5 million.

Then we extrapolate the average crossings, which rise on an annualised basis from 1.9 million trips in 2021 to 2.4 million trips in 2044. This implies some 54 million trips will take place (2021-2044). However, using trips as a stand in for benefits, a trip today has a stronger present value than a trip tomorrow. The present value of all the trips had they occurred today is 24.5 million.

The capital cost per trip is $3.18 undercounted. In discounted terms, this is $7.03.

Given ratepayers are paying for it, one would hope Council is confident benefits are at least $7.03 per trip in benefits.

Do you think that is the case?

Seasons Greetings

For it is in giving that we receive. (St Francis of Assisi)

A big thank you to our clients for the opportunity to work on very interesting projects during 2019. In a sentence, it has been a year of electrification, explosives, timber, leases, water, telecommunications, free zones, customs and trade across Papua New Guinea, Saudi Arabia and Australia.

Personally, I have been blessed to work some very smart people who have generously shared their experience, skills, talents and good humour in these projects.

Wishing everyone all the very best over the holiday season.

Lytton Advisory in Saudi Arabia

Kingdom Centre, KSA

Work with Maxwell Stamp colleagues continues in Saudi Arabia. Gene Tunny and I got a great view of the significant changes occurring right now in downtown Riyadh, including the construction of the city’s USD22.5 billion metro (176km of track and 85 stations). We are on the Sky Bridge at the Kingdom Center, one hundred floors above the city.

L-R: Gene Tunny, Craig Lawrence

Mission to the Kingdom

L-R: Nick Behrens, Craig Lawrence, Gene Tunny, Hamish Bain.

Intra regional trade and the effectiveness of 147 active zones (economic, industrial and free) in the Middle East will be under consideration by Lytton Advisory. The firm has been given a mandate to develop advice for the Gulf Cooperative Council Secretariat on the next phase of closer economic cooperation between member states. This will involve a baseline review of existing economic zones, careful analysis of customs arrangements between Gulf states, an examination of World Trade Organisation implications and economic modelling of preferred solutions. Lytton Advisory is looking forward to working with colleagues from Maxwell Stamp in the Middle East, building on engagements in the region over the past three years.

Economics of Infrastructure with Craig Lawrence podcast discussion – Part 2

Thanks again to Gene Tunny for inviting me onto his podcast ‘Economics Explained’.

Queensland Economy Watch

I’ve just published part 2 of my Economics Explained podcast discussion on the economics of infrastructure with Craig Lawrence, Managing Director of Brisbane-based Lytton Advisory:

Economics of Infrastructure – Part 2

Craig Lawrence has three decades of experience as a professional economist and has advised on a wide range of infrastructure projects in Australia, the Pacific, and the Middle East. Part 2 of our conversation covers, among other things:

  • public private partnerships or PPPs, their pros and their cons;
  • challenges in infrastructure provision in emerging economies;
  • the merits of quasi-independent infrastructure advisory bodies such as Infrastructure Australia and Building Queensland; and
  • the geopolitics of infrastructure (e.g. Chinese takeover of a Sri Lankan port, Australia blocking Huawei’s involvement in 5G infrastructure, and the 99-year leasing out of Darwin port to a Chinese company).

My new Economics Explained podcast is also available via iTunes/Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

On PPPs, you might…

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Towards a Circular Economy

Linear economic systems are inherently unsustainable, creating intergenerational equity where markets for this are not readily available. Understanding waste management approaches and the role of critical raw materials is key to developing effective approaches that move us towards the circular economy. It was one of the reasons I recently completed a short course in these issues.