Municipal waste-to-energy (WTE) systems incorporate significant uncertainty and risk. However, they provide ways to achieve significant environmental and economic sustainability for communities. With growing uncertainty, there are significant challenges around when and how to exercise flexibility.
Flexibility is important because as a mechanism it helps ensure better sustainability for WTE systems with long-term lifecycles. Flexibility of capacity expansion, in particular, is an important consideration given the expenditures that are typically required. Multi-stage stochastic modelling can help develop an optimal decision rule to guide decision making on capacity expansion using a real options approach.
Research on the expected net present value (ENPV) arising from flexible design suggests significant improvements are possible over the fixed rigid design in terms of economic lifecycle performance. The ability to make multi-stage decisions in any time period based on available information as uncertainties are resolved is an advantage over lifetime capital investment decisions that are typically set in the first year of WTE projects.
Through work with UTL Utilities, we bring strong cost benefit analysis and real asset option approaches to this kind of infrastructure investment.
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.
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.
State Infrastructure Plan plays to division between SEQ and Regional Queensland.
The recently released State Infrastructure Plan (SIP) provides a much needed framework for the planning and prioritising of infrastructure delivery in Queensland and should be widely supported.
However, it also reinforces subconsciously the division that exists between SEQ and Regional Queensland when it comes to limited infrastructure dollars being spread across a large and high needs state.
The SIP outlines a $49.5 billion infrastructure program over the next four years from the Queensland Government ($12.9 billion in 2019-20) that claims to be supporting an estimated 40,500 jobs. Based on these metrics alone it is delivering economic development at a time when overall economic growth in Queensland is below trend.
Since the original SIP was released in 2016, Queensland has experienced significant changes including our population growing to more than five million, changing regional economies, and advanced technologies altering both infrastructure and service delivery.
As a result the 2019 SIP details the infrastructure investment strategy and delivery program for the next four years, in order to provide the private sector and other levels of government with clear direction of what is in the pipeline.
The Queensland Government’s SIP mantra is ensuring the right infrastructure is delivered in the right place and at the right time to meet the demands of a growing state. This is a commendable goal of any government and one that directly aligns with community and industry expectation.
If the document has one regrettable feature it is the cementing of an ‘us’ and ‘them’ attitude when it comes to infrastructure rollout across Queensland. For example the SIP reads “Importantly, about 60 per cent of the capital program and 25,500 of the jobs supported are outside the Greater Brisbane area.”
Much of the narrative of a fair split between the two parts of the State is about a political necessity following the Federal Election result whereby Queensland Labor were wiped out north and west of Brisbane.
As an illustration of this point, the 2019 SIP is 207 pages long verses 159 pages back in 2018 and these extra 48 pages are directly up front and relate purposefully to what the Queensland Government is doing in infrastructure delivery in regional Queensland.
It is not wrong to support regional Queensland but constructing a zoning of spend is counter to the commendable objectives of SIP in supporting economic development, increased productivity and the creation of communities in which people want to live across all of Queensland.
The reality is, what benefits SEQ undoubtedly benefits Regional Queensland and vice-versa when it comes to infrastructure.
Glowing examples of this point are the Gateway North Upgrade and Toowoomba Second Range Crossing whereby freight is passaged through these assets that benefits Regional Queensland. On the other side of the coin is investment in rail and ports in regional Queensland is enabling royalties for frontline service delivery in SEQ. The right narrative is a symbiotic relationship between the South East Corner and all of Regional Queensland.
Putting aside the politics, what the SIP really does is highlight how incredibly difficult infrastructure delivery and prioritisation is in Queensland. Our State has the unfaltering complexity of higher economic and population growth in SEQ meaning we are continually behind the infrastructure roll out curve and yet we have the geographical size, decentralised population and low population densities of regional Queensland.
All of which mean the road, rail, electricity transmission and electricity distribution kilometres are higher than other states and we require more airports and seaports. Quite simply infrastructure delivery in Queensland is complex and difficult – with differing priorities benefiting differing areas at differing times.
In summary, the SIP represents a very good iteration or constant continuing roll out of enabling projects for Queensland. Looking past the politics of its presentation it is investing in critical infrastructure and is in fact investing in a positive future for the Sunshine State.
The schools and TAFE are delivering the skills our economy requires. The bridges, roads, ports and rail are enabling our exports to get to market and commerce to flow. The electricity and water assets are providing the vital inputs for our economy.
The overall spend as impressive as it sounds is still low by historical percentage of GSP standards but the SIP has been well received from many communities and industry sectors and rightly so.
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:
Three quick images that show why electrification is so important to developing countries like Papua New Guinea. Increasing use goes hand in hand with higher levels of GDP per captia. Poverty is less and human development increases with higher levels of access.