MERC Newsletter – April 2020


Delegates, here is the April MERC Newsletter, submitted to delegates in very different times to what it was several monnths ago for your information. Most of the information in this newsletter about MERC busness is in view of the COVID-19 Virus situation, with some interesting but relevant articles.

Please circulate this to your fellow Councillors and senior staff, so they can appreciate and understand the excellent work the Association and you are doing on behalf of your Council and community, with regard to mining and energy related matters.


COVID-19 Virus Impact on MERC

The NSW Government is working with councils to support communities across the state in response to COVID-19. Consequently, there have been certain changes that will affect MERC and members going forward as a result of the NSW Government’s respective Ministerial Public Health Orders to implement controls as necessary to combat the COVID -19 Virus, details are provided from the DPIE site in relation to the following:

Council meetings conducted remotely “Amendments have been made to the Local Government Act to allow councils to meet remotely to reduce the risk of COVID-19 and ensure compliance with the Public Health Order.

For the next sixth months councillors can participate in meetings by an audio-visual link instead of attending in person. Council meetings can be held entirely remotely by audio-visual link. Alternatively, where councils continue to meet in person, individual councillors are permitted to participate in the meeting by audio-visual link.

The MERC meeting being held on 7th May 2020 is being conducted as an Executive Committee meeting using video conferencing and a phone conference facility through Warrumbungle Shire Council‘s facilities with Chair and Executive Officer present in their chambers, with assistance from staff at the Council.

There has been a lot of comment about the merits of “bluejeans versus zoom” as video conference facilities and this will be evaluated after this meeting by the Executive Committee and Executive Officer.

The main issue was the location of the Chair and EO in person for the meeting to ensure it runs as smooth as possible under the conditions MERC has to operate to meet the Health Order requirements and Warrumbungle uses as its video conferencing facility and they have a conference phone present in the chamber.

Ministerial Order Changes to the EPA Act 1979  On 25 March 2020, the NSW Government introduced the COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures) Bill 2020, which made changes to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.

The changes allow the Minister for Planning and Public Spaces to make an order for development to be carried out without the normal planning approval in order to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public during the COVID-19 pandemic. The list of Ministerial orders currently in force is below. The list will be updated progressively. Orders can also be found on the NSW Government Gazette. These measures will be kept in place until the crisis is over/ and reviewed as new issues arise.

Physical Copies of Some Planning Documents Removed. The COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures) Bill 2020 removed the requirement for planning decision makers (such as councils) to display physical copies of some documents. These documents will now be available online via the NSW Planning Portal and local council website.

To provide certainty, the Secretary of the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment has also approved the use of local council and state agency websites to display these documents. Councils do not need to provide physical copies at their offices.

Digital documents include development applications, Environmental Impact Statements on exhibition, registers of development consents, complying development certificates and construction certificates. Current exhibition periods will be unaffected, and documentation that is required to be made physically available will be made available online for the duration of exhibition periods.

The NSW Planning Portal provides a range of digital services that enable the community, industry and councils to work together in a secure online environment on planning matters, such as Development Applications. All digital services can be accessed from the safety of your home or office at any time. This supports the need for business continuity during the pandemic, lessening its impact to the NSW economy.

To see which services are available in your local government area, visit the NSW Planning Portal.


Planning Webinar

A planning webinar was conducted on 30th March 20 by Marcus Rae, DPIE Group Deputy Secretary, Planning & Assessment, introduced by Tim Hurst, Deputy Secretary, Local Government, Planning and Policy on the aforementioned and General Managers and Dorectors of Planning & Environment from all NSW Local Councils were invited to particpate and over 260 did, including Joint Organisation Executive Officers.

A lot of details on operational issues were asked by attendees with the slides, questions & answers now on the DPIE site.  


Two year terms for Executive Committee

MERC is to consider the Executive being elected for two year terms and to clarify the wording in Clause 7.1 of the constitution on the composition of the Executive Committee on whether two from any one member can be on it, at a future Special General meeting. MERC when able to be held. Executive Committee currently comprises Chair, two Deputy Chairs and three other delegates with all to come from separate council areas and they are elected annually, however recent events have demonstrated the clause needs rewriting for clarity purposes.


Next Meetings for the Association in 2020

The COVID-19 Virus will also have an impact on the holding of the next meetings of MERC given the social distancing and group gathering number limitations imposed by the Public Health Order. It is expected this control measure to combat the coronavirus is expected to last three to six months, the latter affecting the May and likely the August meeting of MERC.

The locations/dates for meetings in 2020 were agreed to be held at Blayney 7/8th May 2020; Orange on 13/14th August and Sydney in November (date TBA) to fit in with Country Mayors Association (6/3/20, 29/5/20, 7/8/20 & 6/11/20) and parliament sittings, however Blayney has missed out on the opportunity to host the round of meetings in May and have indcated they would like to host the November meeting.

Under the constitution, MERC is required to have one General Meeting (the Annual General) a year and as many other General Meetings as the Executive Committee determine. It must have four Executive Committee meetings a year. Consequently it has been practice to have four Executive Committee meetings, four General meetings after the Executive Committee, Special General meetings as required and one Annual General meeting a year.

The Executive Committee was canvassed to ascertain how they would like to deal with this situation and given that delegates would have the dates and times alreadyin their schedules, that Blayney in person would be cancelled and only an Executive Committee meeting to be held with delegates able to join by video conferencing or conference phone. The business paper has been distributed to all delegates to follow the Executive Committee meeting and those not on the Executive Committee will attend the meeting as observers and only allowed to speak if Chair allows.

Those attending by either application will need to let the Executive Officer know before the meeting as the constitution still requires a quorum and an attendance registration.

This way all delegates can be part of the meeting as they were in the past when the Executive Officer presents his report for the consideration of the Executive Committee, albeit not a day later but as it unfolds.


Update on the Voluntary Planning Agreement Steering Committee

The Guidelines for VPA’s and a VPA framework agreement (including scope and calculation methodologies) has now been agreed to by NSWMC & the MERC VPA Working Party. The aim is to have it endorsed by DPIE (in a way similar to that of the Blueprint for Renewable Energy that Northern JO’s developed and was circulated by DPIE) and to be sent to members and all LGA’s in NSW. The matter has been raised with Mike Young at our meeting 5th March 2020 and MERC still awaiting response. Mike has acknowledged this and will update the Executive Officer before the meeting on 7th May at 2pm.


Resources for Regions (R4R) versus a Royalties for Regions.

In MERC’s pursuit of the R4R being changed to a better program to suit mining affected Councils, the MERC working party was involved in the early discourse with the government’s Resources NSW staff. It was resolved at the Ordinary meeting on 5th March that M/s Suzanne Gillham, Project Manager for Resources NSW developing the new criteria and program for Round 7 Resources for Regions, be invited to address members at a future meeting, along with Deputy Premier, Hon John Barilaro, on the contents of the new Program.

Discussions were  held with Suzanne initially about addressing delegates by teleconference or video conference in lieu of in person, at the next Executive Committee meeting of MERC on 7th  and whilst she has been moved to another section of her department, her replacement Donnatella D’Aimco and current Director (due to be moved to another section too) Jonathon Wheaton have now confirmed will address delegates at the start of the meeting. The chances of the Deputy Premier, Hon John Barilaro doing the same would be highly unlikely,


Regional Advisory Forum (RAF)

Delegates raised the benefits of having a RAF with a delegate from MERC on it being retained with Mike Young on 5th March 2020 and he requested MERC put forward an argument for its retention.  A response on this will be part of what Mike Young is to say this week.


Membership Campaign

At the Ordinary meeting in Sydney on 5th  March 2020, it was agreed that MERC authorise the Executive Officer to develop and implement a marketing campaign in consultation with the Chair and relevant MERC membership staff to include pamphlets, notepads with “We are your voice – become a member” or suchlike on them for handouts, a banner indicating locality of members throughout NSW, a video to play on a laptop to link back to the webpage, set up a membership page on the website, etc to the value of $5000 plus take a stand at the LGNSW Conference in November 22-24, at Cessnock and do a presentation to the Country Mayor’s Association at a future meeting.

The coronavirus may also have an impact on MERC’s marketing campaign whether or not LGNSW has a conference this year and the Executive Officer is able to present to a future Country Mayor’s Association meeting. A stand has been booked for the conference and actions underway with the other startegies outlined


List of Speakers for future meetings of MERC

MERC will be continually pursuing the following speakers for future meetings with The Greens now listed:

  • Hon Rob Stokes, Minister for Planning & Public Spaces, Liberal Party;
  • Hon Matt Kean, Minister for Energy & Environment, Liberal Party;
  • Hon John Barilaro, Deputy Premier, Minister for Regional NSW, Investment & Trade, Leader of NSW National Party;
  • Hon Adam Marshall, Minister for Agriculture & Western NSW, National Party;
  • David Shoebridge MLC (Energy) & Abigail Boyd MLC (Mining), from The Greens;
  • Other relevant Opposition party members and government senior officers will also be pursued for meetings as required depending on locality of the meetings;
  • Relevant Senior Departmental Executives;
  • CEO’s, Clean Energy Council and Clean Energy Finance Corporation, ARENA, etc.


Research Fellowship Update

Peter Dupen has been busy seeking partners for the project likely to be in the Central Western area of NSW and hopefully the COVID19 Virus doesn’t impede his progress too much. A report on this has been provided to deleagtes for consideration at the meeting on 7th May where a dtaft proposal has been received for consideration by the Executive Committee.


Strategic Plan 2020 – 2023 Review

A Sub Committee consisting of Clr Michael Banasik (Executive Committee – Wollondilly Shire Council), Cr Jo McRae (Orange City Council) and Glenn Wilcox (General Manager, Warren Shire Council & Life Member) are working with the Executive Officer to present a draft document updating the current plan to the August meeting of MERC. Information is coming together from the working party to have a draft for the August meetings.


Update on CRC for Transformations in Mining Economies Approval.

MERC was invited last year to be a NSW partner in the establishment of the national Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Transformations in Mining Economies (CRC TiME) being established in Perth, Western Australia at University of Western Australia, at no cost to MERC. This fits in with our strategic plan by being involved in making a difference through research partnerships with Universities in Australia on various topics such as rehabilitation and post mining impacts on economies.

The national partnership was required in order to get the grant announced below to set up the CRC for transforming mining economies from mining to no mining plus value add them. More will come from this partnership and delegates will be kept informed in due course from their regular newsletters.

They have now developed a Research Framework document that captures the extensive discussions held in 2019 about the work of CRC TiME and outlined in their successful proposal to the Commonwealth Government.   

It is anticipated that this framework will underpin consultation over the first year of the CRC to develop the CRCs long term strategy. This process will also drive the scoping and prioritisation of potential “foundational” projects that CRC TiME is seeking to commission in its first year of operation. 


Update on Independent Planning Commission Review

An update on the progress being made in implementing the recommendations of the NSW Productivity Commissioner’s recent review of the Independent Planning Commission is available from their website:

The Office of the Independent Planning Commission was established as a separate agency, with a commencement date of 1 July. It is anticipated that most of the other review recommendations aimed at enhancing independence and certainty, improving governance and performance, and strengthening collaboration with the NSW Department of Planning, Industry & Environment will also be completed by 1 July 2020. Some corporate changes – particularly rolling out new ICT systems – will take longer to finalise..

There appears to be an ongoing commitment to work with key community, industry and government stakeholders to roll out these important reforms, which seek to strengthen the Commission’s independence and integrity as a decision-making authority for complex and contentious state significant development in New South Wales.


Related Matters of Interest – Mining and Energy Issues

Government Engagement Insights for Three Australian States”14th April 2020 – From Peter Dupen, PhD student with UTS working with MERC on the Research Proposal: Using Participatory Modelling to enhance stakeholder engagement in a planning approval process. He asks – have you heard about this report just out from UQ/CSRM?  Government engagement: insights from three Australian states: very interesting.

“Solar used for Desalination Plant”  Article in Industrial Careers, 22nd April: A new solar setup will reduce the power bill for Adelaide’s desalination plant. SA Water has plans to install 500,000 panels statewide, including 35,000 at a former oil refinery site south of the city.

SA Water has agreed to purchase 14 hectares of land at Port Stanvac, next to the Adelaide Desalination Plant. Crude oil was refined for several decades at the newly acquired site before its permanent closure by Exxon Mobil in 2009.

SA Water’s Nicola Murphy said the site should be able to generate an average of 21 gigawatt hours of electricity per year, reducing the utility’s carbon emissions by 10,710 tonnes annually. The two-metre by one-metre solar panels will be fitted to a fixed-tilt racking system on an east-to-west axis.

“In times of higher rainfall, when the plant operates in a low production mode, the combined solar generation and battery storage will provide more energy than the facility requires and return the excess to the National Electricity Market,” she said.

The Adelaide Desalination Plant was commissioned in response to the millennium drought, but it was not operational until after the drought had broken.

The plant has since operated in minimum production mode and has been switched off entirely during some wetter months. Even so, it costs SA Water about $13.5 million a year.

The SA Government agreed late last year to crank up the plant to produce 40 gigalitres (about 40 per cent of capacity) up to June 30 as a drought relief measure. The increased costs of this measure will be covered by the Commonwealth.

SA Water plans to install many more solar panels across 37 of its sites, with a target of producing 242 gigawatt hours of electricity and 34 megawatt hours of battery storage.

Already, 130,000 panels have been installed at the Bolivar Wastewater Treatment Plant and at pumping stations that move water from the Murray to Whyalla on the Upper Eyre Peninsula. Refer

MP Calls for Power Plan Probe” Article in Industrial Careers, 27th April says:

The auditor general has been asked to investigate a Morrison government scheme to underwrite gas, hydro and coal power. Independent MP Zali Steggall says the scheme lacks transparency and the Coalition may lack the constitutional or legislative authority to introduce it.

The Coalition’s Underwriting New Generation Investment (UNGI) scheme was announced in 2018 to fund new dispatchable power generation projects. Twelve projects, including six pumped hydro plants, five gas generators and an upgrade to the Vales Point coal-fired power plant, have been shortlisted.

Ms Steggall wants auditor general Grant Hehir to consider investigating the program “as a matter of priority”. Her letter refers to research by The Australia Institute (available here in PDF form) that suggests the program has no constitutional or legislative standing, no guidelines or criteria to assess projects, and has been unclear in its development and implementation.

“There’s just no transparency or accountability around this,” Mr Steggall has told Guardian Australia. “We’ve seen what happened with sport rorts. We’re talking about commonwealth money at a time when we know the economy has taken a hit due to coronavirus, and I think it should be properly investigated.”  Refer

“Fossil Fuels see 5% Drop” Article in Industrial Careers, 20th April 2020:

New data suggests global carbon emissions from the fossil fuel industry could fall by a record 2.5 billion tonnes this year. New analysis shows the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a 5 per cent drop in demand for fossil fuels.

Dr Fatih Birol, the head of the International Energy Agency, says it is not a climate triumph.

“This decline is happening because of the economic meltdown in which thousands of people are losing their livelihoods, not as a result of the right government decisions in terms of climate policies,” he said. “The reason we want to see emissions decline is because we want a more liveable planet and happier, healthier people.”

Rystad Energy, a Norwegian energy consultancy, predicts demand for crude will fall by an average of 11 million barrels of oil a day this year, or 4 billion barrels in total, cutting 1.8 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions.

“The coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented event for energy markets, which will have a substantial impact on the world’s total carbon emissions,” says Erik Holm Reiso, a senior partner at Rystad.

“The last time demand for oil contracted, during the financial crisis in 2008 to 2009, demand fell by 1.3 million barrels of oil a day, but COVID-19 could cause oil demand to fall by more than five times as much.”

Gas Intensity Rises” Article Industrial Careers, 20th April 2020:

A new report shows Australia’s gas industry emissions intensity is increasing. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) says emissions are increasing as the gas industry expands into more emissions-intensive gas reserves.

“Since 2014, the 360 per cent expansion of LNG production in Australia accompanies a likely 460 per cent growth in the industry’s domestic greenhouse gas emissions,” IEEFA analyst John Robert says. “The LNG industry is not as clear in its reporting of emissions as say, the electricity industry. Untangling the web requires a very big deep dive.”

The Federal Government has long claimed that Australia’s gas industry and LNG exports are leading to overall reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions. However, the IEEFA estimates that the average amount of greenhouse gas emissions associated with gas production has increased from 0.54 tonnes of CO2-e per tonne of LNG produced, to 0.70 tonnes of CO2-e per tonne of LNG produced.

This means there is less difference in emissions between coal and gas as alternative fuels, and diminishing benefits to using gas as a transition fuel.

The IEEFA says with several new Australian gas developments paused amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it might be time to reconsider further expansion. “This pause gives time for a new look at what is happening in the LNG industry,” Mr Robert added. “We must better quantify the very high level of emissions being released, and potentially to be released in even higher proportions, from new developments over several more decades.”

“Window’s Seen as a New Source’ Article Industrial Careers, 21st April 2020:

Australian engineers are working on windows that can generate electricity. A new paper describes semi-transparent solar cells that can be incorporated into window glass, described as a potential “game-changer”.

A team from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Exciton Science and Monash University are producing next-gen perovskite solar cells that generate electricity while allowing light to pass through. They are now investigating how the new technology could be built into commercial products with Viridian Glass, Australia’s largest glass manufacturer.

This technology will transform windows into active power generators, potentially revolutionising building design. Two square metres of solar window, the researchers say, will generate about as much electricity as a standard rooftop solar panel.

The idea of semi-transparent solar cells is not new, but previous designs have failed because they were very expensive, unstable or inefficient, but the new design uses a different approach.

The team used an organic semiconductor that can be made into a polymer and used it to replace a commonly used solar cell component (known as Spiro-OMeTAD), which shows very low stability because it develops an unhelpful watery coating. The substitute produced astonishing results.

“Rooftop solar has a conversion efficiency of between 15 and 20 per cent,” said research leader Professor Jacek Jasieniak. “The semi-transparent cells have a conversion efficiency of 17 per cent, while still transmitting more than 10 per cent of the incoming light, so they are right in the zone. It’s long been a dream to have windows that generate electricity, and now that looks possible.”

Solar windows will be a boon for building owners and residents, and will bring new challenges and opportunities for architects, builders, engineers and planners.

“There is a trade-off,” explained Professor Jasieniak. “The solar cells can be made more, or less, transparent. The more transparent they are, the less electricity they generate, so that becomes something for architects to consider.”

He added that solar windows tinted to the same degree as current glazed commercial windows would generate about 140 watts of electricity per square metre.

“The semi-transparent cells have a conversion efficiency of 17 per cent, while still transmitting more than 10 per cent of the incoming light, so they are right in the zone. It’s long been a dream to have windows that generate electricity, and now that looks possible.”


Disclaimer The comments and details in the articles in this newsletter do not reflect the views, policies or position of the Association or its member Councils and are sourced and reproduced from public media outlets by the Executive Officer to provide information for members that they may not already be exposed to in their Local Government areas



Clr Peter Shinton (Chair) 0268492000 or Greg Lamont (Executive Officer) 0407937636,

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