David Dixon, Byron Bay
The development application (DA) for the bioenergy facility contained over 400 pages of documents but no rigorous economic assessment. The financial information on Council’s Your Say website does not inspire confidence.
First, $15–20 million is being spent to reduce carbon emissions by 2,000–3,000 tonnes per year. This is a gross annual cost of at least a couple of hundred dollars per tonne of carbon abated over the lifetime of the project. This is extravagant given the current market price for carbon offsets is only $18–19 per tonne.
Second, various savings and new income streams are promoted that would reduce this gross price, but no monetary values are revealed. Their worth, of course, would have to be staggeringly high to counterbalance upfront capital outlays plus millions more in running costs over the coming years.
Nevertheless, the website confidently asserts there is a sound business case for the project, which will eventually be ‘presented to Council in early 2022 for its Go/No Go decision’.
I’m troubled by this scenario for two reasons: First, holding back such fundamental data until the very last moment in the approval process will stifle in-depth scrutiny and debate. Second, there is no clear commitment to making this information public and it may be presented as a confidential brief for Councillors only.
The budget for the plant is just too vast for the facts about its economic viability to be delayed or hidden. After eight years of preparatory work, a cost/benefit analysis should have been included in the DA for evaluation by ratepayers and the media. A DA devoid of such basic information was profoundly flawed and prevented a holistic assessment of the proposal by the community. We’ve been given no way of knowing whether this multi-million-dollar scheme is a cost-effective way of reducing carbon or a wasteful vanity project.