Story and image by Paul Bibby
Ideas and feedback are being sought on Byron Council’s plan to build a $15 million bioenergy facility that would convert much of the Shire’s organic waste into renewable energy.
Council say, if built, the facility would be the first of its kind in Australia and would process residential green bin waste, commercial food waste, and grease trap waste into biogas, via a process called anaerobic digestion.
Also to be converted would be wastewater from the Byron Bay Sewage Treatment Plant (STP), which is where the proposed facility would be located.
Council had previously proposed to build the facility at the Brunswick Valley STP on Vallances Road, but changed the location in 2018.
According to Council, the entire process would generate approximately four million kilowatt-hours of renewable electricity per year, equivalent to powering 267 households.
This electricity would be used to run the Byron Bay STP – one of Council’s most power-hungry operations – with the excess energy fed into the grid, creating a revenue stream which Council hopes will make the project economically viable.
‘This could revolutionise the production of bioenergy in this country’, the manager of the project John Hart said.
‘It doesn’t require any fossil fuels to operate, effectively solves the Shire’s organic waste problem, and it stacks up financially on its own’.
Key to this financial viability is the fact that phosphate-rich bio soil compost is made as a byproduct of the process.
Council believes this will be highly sought after by farmers around the region, creating an additional revenue stream. Money will also be saved by the removal of the need to truck the Shire’s organic waste to Yatala in Queensland, a practice that also comes at a heavy environmental cost.
However, Council would still need between $15m and $20m to build the facility.
‘We’re in the process of applying to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency for funding’, Mr Hart said.
‘They offer funding of up to 50 per cent, but realistically, we’re hoping for between 20 and 40 per cent.’
The Council is considering partially funding the remainder from its Sewerage Fund Capital Works Reserve.
The Council has promised that the facility would have no negative impact on the surrounding environment, and that there would be virtually no noise or smell from the waste conversion process itself.
However, the operation would require a significant increase in truck movements into and out of the site, though Council says it would reduce the number of truck movements in the region overall.
This is largely because it will remove the need to truck organic waste to Queensland. This costly process is one of the difficulties Council currently faces when dealing with the 20,000 tonnes of waste generated in the Shire each year.
This includes the fact that neither the Queensland facility, nor Lismore’s composting facility, is able to accept biosolids.
The Lismore facility is also unable to take dewatered grease trap waste.
Currently the majority of the Shire’s commercial organic waste – from cafes, restaurants and farms – goes into landfill; something it hopes to change if the facility goes ahead.
‘By creating renewable energy here in the Byron Shire, and using our green waste to fuel it, we can reduce landfill, get trucks off the road, and work smart as a community to tackle climate change’, Mayor Simon Richardson said.
‘By investing in this technology, Council will reduce its emissions, increase productivity of its sewage treatment plant, create jobs in the renewables sector and support the local agriculture industry’.
The project is currently in its feasibility stage, and Council is seeking feedback and suggestions from the local community.
To have your say, go to www.yoursaybyronshire.com.au/byron-shire-bioenergy-facility.
Council staff will also be at the farmers markets in Mullumbimby, Bangalow and Byron Bay in coming weeks.