GEORGE TOWN - Penang will have to turn seawater into tap water by 2020 if it can't get Perak to sell raw water to the state.
A source in PBA Holdings Bhd said PBAHB began researching seawater conversion since 2013 and would launch plans to build a desalination plant as a last resort.
"We are going to run out of water resources by 2020. We have to be ready as there will be a critical water shortage by 2025," he said.
He compared the prospect of desalination in Penang with Hong Kong's latest seawater conversion project.
Hong Kong is building a 10ha desalination plant. The first stage is expected to be ready in 2020 and will churn out 135 million litres of tap water a day.
"Hong Kong is spending over RM4bil (S$1.48 billion) and the output they will get is only 16 per cent of Penang's daily needs," the source said.
Last year, Penang's daily demand was 813 million litres. The current average domestic water price in Penang is 32sen per 1,000 litres while the average trade tariff is RM1.36 for the same amount.
The source said a desalination plant could send the overall average price to RM4 per 1,000 litres.
PBAHB chief executive officer Jaseni Maidinsa has declined to comment.
However, in the corporation's annual report last year, Jaseni said while Singapore succeeded in using desalination as one of its supply solutions, the republic's domestic water price was RM4.07 per 1,000 litres for the first 35,000 litres.
Water Watch Penang president Prof Chan Ngai Weng said he was aware that desalination would be Penang's last resort.
"We are being bullied by Perak and Kedah. Kedah's Muda Dam slows the flow of Sungai Muda.
"This makes it hard for us to pump enough water from Sungai Muda during the dry season," he said.
The river supplies 80 per cent of Penang's water needs and in 1998, it was reported that the Penang government had to request Muda Dam to release water to raise the river's level during a drought.
Prof Chan said if Penangites did not want to be bullied, they had to conserve water.
"Singaporeans use an average of 150 litres per person per day. Why is ours almost 300 litres?"
Prof Chan said aside from the cost and high carbon footprint of desalination, there were health issues connected with drinking converted seawater.
Dietary iodine deficiency, which disrupts thyroid functions, has been linked to long term consumption of desalinated seawater.
Perak refuses to sell raw water to Penang and only wants to supply treated water.
The Penang government is resisting the counter-deal for fear of paying a premium.
"If we take treated water from Perak, then our domestic water price could be like Johor - up to RM1.05 per 1,000 litres," Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said recently.