Mayor Michael Lyon is downplaying a funding rejection for Council’s much touted Bioenergy Facility proposal by a federal government agency, claiming other funding sources are available.
Located next to the West Byron Sewage Treatment Plant (STP), the proposal is estimated to cost $20–25M, and was approved in May 2022 by the Northern Regional Planning Panel (NRPP), despite concerns from a bird watching group around the potential to impact wildlife activity.
Neighbours also objected to the high level of truck traffic proposed to service the facility.
Buried within Council’s upcoming September 29 agenda is a brief statement that the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) wouldn’t be progressing with Council’s funding application.
Staff say, in the agenda, that feedback received was, ‘The ARENA Board does not endorse continuing the ‘Byron Shire Council Bioenergy Facility’ project through the ARENA approval process.’
Further explanation was sought from ARENA, but no reply was provided by deadline.
Council claimed back in 2020 that if approved, DA 10.2021.364.1 would be ‘a first-of-its-kind facility in Australia’, and at the time staff claimed it would cost $16.5M. There were claims it would process up to 28,000 tonnes of organic waste and biosolids a year, ‘generating between three and four million kilowatt hours of renewable energy’.
Cr Lyon told The Echo while it was ‘unfortunate’ Council was unsuccessful with the ARENA bid, ‘we have other avenues for grant funding and applications have been and are being made’.
Those funding avenues were not provided, however.
The mayor continued, ‘The project stacks up on its own, and does not require grant funding to be financially viable; however, it is obviously preferable to receive grant funding and reduce any borrowing requirement’.
Yet, according to a staff report in April 2021, the Bioenergy project was one of many projects that were flagged as being at risk, ‘assuming no grant funding ($12M)’ if Council proceeded with a 5MW solar farm in Myocum.
$1.3M cost so far
Given the project has cost ratepayers $1.3M so far, The Echo asked ‘why wasn’t more certainty established before it was known that ARENA wouldn’t approve this?’
Cr Lyon replied, ‘ARENA has a lengthy, rigorous and complex application process, which consists of multiple rounds of review. Council successfully proceeded through several initial review stages with ARENA staff and, regrettably in the final review, Council’s application was not approved by the external ARENA Board. Applicants cannot have ‘certainty’ before applying for ARENA grant funding, and ARENA deliberations and decisions are not in the public domain’.