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Byron Shire
September 26, 2023

Private partnership sought for bioenergy facility proposal

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Byron Council have been forced to explore the possibility of a public private partnership to fund its planned bioenergy facility in Byron Bay.

It’s an option that would effectively mean privatising the plant and the public land it sits upon, for 25 years or more. 

In the latest chapter in the six-year saga over the proposal to build the waste-to-energy plant next to the Byron Sewage Treatment Plant (STP), it has now emerged that Council cannot viably fund the $23M project by itself, and that government funding is unlikely to be forthcoming in the near future.

At last week’s meeting, councillors voted to submit a proposal to the state government for the project to be considered for ‘initial assessment’ as a Public Private Partnership (PPP).

Byron Council project manager, John Hart. Image Paul Bibby

Rejected application

This follows an unsuccessful funding application to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, which Council had been counting on to bankroll the project as part of its business plan. 

While this does not commit Council to going down the privatisation path, it is a significant step in that direction.

Preparing the application will cost the Council $70,000, adding to the $1.3M it has already spent on the plan. 

In a written report to the meeting, Council senior project officer, John Hart, spelt out the financial challenges that Council now faced in trying to fund the project. 

‘The size of the financial contribution required by Council to the Bioenergy Facility Project is considerable, and has the potential to significantly increase Council’s debt position if it chooses to deliver this project without any private sector financing via an approved PPP,’ Mr Hart said.

He noted that, at June 30, 2022, Council had $58.77 million owing in loans. ‘[I]t could take up to 25 years to recover the initial investment if Council had no alternative funding partner,’ he said.

Mr Hart also noted that government grant funding in relation to waste was now directed mostly toward helping other NSW councils set up a three-bin garbage system to divert organic waste away from landfill.

He said that two new infrastructure grant streams were proposed at the federal level in 2023, but funds would not be forthcoming until 2024, at the earliest.

This left Council with few viable options if it wished to continue with its plan to build the facility in the near future. 

Under the PPP plan, a private company would obtain a 25-year lease for the land from Council. The company would also operate the facility. It would take up to two years for the facility to be up and running.  

All voted in favour 

Councillors are divided over the privatisation plan, though they all voted in favour of exploring it as an option.

Independent councillor, Mark Swivel, spoke in favour, arguing that Council needed to find other ways of financing the project after its previous attempt to get federal grant funding was unsuccessful.

‘A project like this should be Council owned, but given that option appears to no longer be tenable, I think we need to find other ways of financing it,’ Cr Swivel said.

‘It wouldn’t involve any selling of land to a private entity, so it’s not the worst kind of privatisation of public assets.

‘As I understand there would be a buyback down the track’.

Mayor Michael Lyon said that he was only in favour of exploring the PPP as a ‘last resort’.

‘I want to put on the record that I don’t want to do a PPP,’ Cr Lyon said. ‘I implore our federal representative to look for ways to fund this federally, as should have been done, and as was signalled by [federal government’s] ARENA [agency].

‘If it’s the last resort, and it’s $70,000 for an insurance policy, then I can accept that.’

Closed-loop cycle 

According to Council’s website, bioenergy is a way of converting organic waste into renewable energy. 

Council staff say, ‘It is known as a closed-loop carbon cycle, because the carbon created ends up as plant matter and stays within the system’. 

‘Dry anaerobic digestion uses oxygen-free conditions to break down organic matter inside a contained facility. The resulting biogas is converted into energy’.

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  1. Its a heavily polluting Methane burning gas fired electricity plant but that fact is never mentioned in any Report. The Plants furnace burning the Methane will pump out emissions 24/7. The ongoing excess Methane needed to ensure 24/7 electricity production will be burnt out by a flame out of the chimney. The greenwaste after being fermented to produce Methane will then be sold as compost where it will continue to gas off both residual Methane and continue to breakdown with emissions. And the proactively grown crops, in excess of our normal green waste collected, needed to supply for conversion to Methane to keep the gas fired plant running, are a further increas in emissions even over our existing amounts of green waste. And the 2000 Trucks will be pumping out their diesel emissions, with each trucks emissions equal to the emissions of 20 cars ( ie equal to emissions from 40,000 cars) The net zero allegations are purely based on a made up formula of offsets because its “waste”. Burning plastic waste for electricity is also credited as renewable energy, and gets tradable renewable energy Certificates with both the plastic waste incinerator and the recipient polluter opurchasing the Certificatse both falsely classed as net zero operations – and there is a desperate attempt to find a plastic incinerator site wihich would be an attractive add on to the Sunrise Methane burning Plant, which is a further argument for not passing the site on to a private operator – it would add a further layer onto even addressing Byron Councils net zero bull crap

  2. ‘[I]t could take up to 25 years to recover the initial investment if Council had no alternative funding partner,’

    So they are hoping a private investor is going to come forward with tens of millions of dollars on the expectation of making a return over 25 years? Do these councillors have any comprehension at all about commercial reality?

    Add this one to the pie in the sky dreams they have about private investors getting involved in their “affordable housing” being built above the council car park in Mullumbimby and the resurrection of the railway between Bangalow and Yelgun.


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