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.
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.
Thanks to Gene Tunny, Principal at Adept Economics, for inviting me onto his new podcast series – Economics Explained. We discussed the nature of infrastructure, the services these assets supply and how good economic analysis helps select better infrastructure projects. Gene and I have collaborated on a number of projects over the last two years. He is a leading independent economist who blogs regularly at queenslandeconomywatch.com.
Today marks the sixth anniversary of Lytton Advisory as an independent economic consulting practice. Over that time, we have worked on a wide range of economic issues. This has taken us to places as diverse as the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
We have never lost our enthusiasm for helping clients make smarter capital investment decisions. Neither have we wavered in our passion for proper planning, prioritisation and funding of infrastructure. In more recent years, our work has been around leading project teams of committed, experienced economists and professionals to bring high conviction analyses to our clients. Good cost benefit analysis is at the heart of what we do.
In the first half 2019 founder, Craig Lawrence took, in effect, a sabbatical from the practice to lead the establishment of the Economic and Social Infrastructure Program in PNG. This $130 million 4+4 year Cardno-delivered, Australian Government funded program seeks to improve the quality of planning, prioritisation and funding of infrastructure to achieve economic outcomes and social development goals for Papua New Guineans.
Whether it is: developing an investment manual to incorporate climate change adaptation in infrastructure development decisions in the Solomons; a full cost pricing algorithm for food and drug regulatory services in Saudi Arabia; or generating savings from waste transfer station closures that fund a ten-year capital works program – Lytton Advisory is up for the challenge. At every stage, it is about driving value for the clients and communities affected by infrastructure.
We are excited about the future for infrastructure, its contribution to sustainable economic and social development, and how emerging economic incentives, new social paradigms and innovative technologies are shaking up these services.
Building Queensland has released its latest Infrastructure Pipeline Report. It shows how the Queensland Government is addressing the State Infrastructure Plan, and how this relates to funding by the Commonwealth Government.
Queensland faces big challenges. Population growth and ageing, ageing infrastructure assets and increased demand for social infrastructure, and constrained funding envelopes. These challenges require innovative thinking around services, assets, operations, funding and financing.
The Report highlights how a staged business case process can drive value for the State infrastructure spend before final funding decisions are made. It also makes very transparent which projects the State has to decide to actually fund. The infrastructure pipeline is informing Queensland Government investment decisions with 23 proposals funded since our first report in June 2016
The importance of the Infrastructure Pipeline Report is in the credibility of the project development path for projects. Since 2016 the Pipeline has informed Queensland Government investment decisions to fund 23 proposals. This level of transparency attracts a lot of focus, energy and resources from the private sector. It also enables longer-term planning by businesses to anticipate future project delivery needs.
The credibility of this Pipeline is in stark contrast to the rash of unfunded announcements that were made by governments in the past, leading to ridiculous capital works programs that were never delivered.
Publicly released independent reviews of business cases and, in particular, the mandatory cost-benefit analyses, would strengthen this further.
The 2019 Infrastructure Pipeline Report can be found at:
The Economic Society of Australia recently polled a number of senior economists on its National Economic Panel, posing the following question:
“As interest rates are at low levels by historical standards, federal and state governments, despite their public debt levels, should be borrowing more than they currently are to invest in infrastructure”.
Just over 70% of respondents either agree or strongly agree, and on a confidence-weighted basis, 75% agree or strongly agree. This is a rare consensus.
It is worth reading the individual responses. This strong consensus is backed by a requirement for solid cost-benefit analysis, case-by-case consideration of projects and a recognition that any infrastructure spending is not automatically a ‘good thing’.