MERC Newsletter – July 2020


Delegates, here is the July MERC Newsletter, submitted to delegates in very different times to what it was several months ago for your information. Just when we thought there was some brighter light at the end of the tunnel by having an “in person” meeting at Orange however the COVID impacts in Victoria and now NSW in recent times make it too risky to do that for the August meeting. Hopefully we can do an “in person” meeting at Blayney in November 2020.

Please circulate the Newsletter 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 very closely with Councils to support communities across the state in response to COVID-19. Consequently, there will be changes as circumstances alter that will affect MERC and members going forward due to the NSW Government’s respective Ministerial Public Health Orders to implement controls as necessary to combat the COVID -19 Virus.

The MERC meeting held on 7th May 2020 was conducted as an Executive Committee meeting using video conferencing through Warrumbungle Shire Councils’ facilities with Chair and Executive Officer present in their chambers, with assistance from staff at the Council.

This time for the August MERC meeting, we are having only the one Executive Committee meeting the same way as 7th May to be held on Friday 14th August starting at 9am. We are working on doing it through Zoom this meeting, in view of comments from the last meeting. The link will be sent with the business paper.


Two year terms for Executive Committee

MERC is to consider the Executive Committee 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 Council can be on it, at a future Special General meeting of MERC.

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 locations/dates for meetings in 2020 were agreed to be held at Orange on 13/14th August and now in Blayney in November, however Orange meeting has been cancelled and moved to Warrumbungle Shire Council Chamber in Coonabarabran.  Hopefully Orange City Council are able to host a regional meeting in 2021.

The meeting on 7th May 2020 agreed that Blayney will host the November 2020 meeting and dates provided from the Council are Thursday/Friday 19/20th or 26/27th November 2020. Either of these appear to suit the meeting cycles of members and the Executive will determine what suits at the August 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, plus Special General meetings as required and one Annual General meeting a year.

By having to deal with the Public Health Order on COVID-19 it is appropriate that MERC have another Executive Committee meeting so it satisfies the constitution and handle the business as an Executive Committee as it did on 7th May 2020 with the Executive Committee conducting the meeting and non Executive Committee member delegates able to be part of it, observe and speak if Chair allows.


Update on the Voluntary Planning Agreement

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 was 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), put on their website and to be sent to members and all LGA’s in NSW.

Mike Young, DPIE, Executive Director, Planning & Assessments has indicated that this level of circulation is not possible as per the following statement by him:

“In regard to the Guideline, the Department does not intend to place this document on the website as it relates to an agreement between third parties, and it may result in confusion for some stakeholders as the website already includes a range of documents published by the NSW Government regarding developer contributions.

I also note that there are a number of councils and mining companies that are not members of either the Energy and Mining Related Councils or the NSW Minerals Council.

While many of the recent reforms to developer contributions may not apply to mining projects, the NSW Government has also asked the Productivity Commission to undertake a review of developer contributions and report to government by the end of the year. The recommendations of the Productivity Commission may have implications for the current arrangements relating to fixed levy contributions and voluntary planning agreements.

However, happy to discuss alternative approaches, noting that the document is available to your members and the members of the Minerals Council to use as required”

The Executive Officer will take this up with the Executive Committee to consider a course of action to promote and release the Guidelines document.


Resources for Regions (R4R).

Details were recently released on Round 7 of the Resources for Regions Program as announced by the Deputy Premier, Hon John Barilaro. Those members that are on the list of 24 would have received a letter to Mayor/GM on the allocation for your eligible Council.

This is subject to your Council initially contacting the Regional NSW staff to ensure your proposed projects meet the Guidelines and to meet all of the other requirements therein as well. Whilst the R4R Program has been improved it appears there are still hoops to jump through, hopefully they aren’t too onerous for eligible members.

To enquire follow this lead – “Contact us on 1300 679 673 or at or contact your local Business Development Manager at the Department of Regional NSW”. There have been some queries on the changes made with R4R that only the bureaucrats like Jonathon Wheaton can advise you on and what can you do if your Council is not one of the 24, his number is 0406864512.

Clarification on what is the role and composition of the Assessment Panel has also been sought and the response was that it will be dealt with internally without MERC or other external parties involved as part of the RIAP, under the new arrangements.


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.  The Executive Officer has sought a response to this repeatedly and again recently and low and behold, Mike Young has come back and txted that a decision on this is pending and is likely to to be made soon! So it is not a dead duck yet.


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.

A stand has been booked for the LGNSW conference and actions underway with the other strategies outlined. Discussions on the content of a membership web page and the marketing content with the principal of Cibis has occurred and has been written to suit the 2020-2023 Strategic Plan review changes. Will need some volunteers to provide testimonials via video, more later on this after the August meeting

Samples of promotional materials have been procured and will be shown to the Executive Committee on 14th August to consider before placing larger orders. Membership page wording for the web page has been almost finalised. Some faces and voices are needed for the video to accompany the promotions. Banners and maps still to be finalised, but in hand.


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 – Shadow Minister for Local Government (Greg Warren) keen to address delegates post COVID;
  • Relevant Senior Departmental Executives;
  • CEO’s, Clean Energy Council and Clean Energy Finance Corporation, ARENA, etc.


Speakers for the August meeting are:

  • Senior staff of Minister for Energy & Environment office (REZ) Directors Stu Hodgson and Chloe Hicks) have accepted to address delegates on Renewable Energy Zones (REZ) particularly the Central West/ Orana REZ where a lot of our members exist;
  • Dr Alex King, Executive Director, Resources Policy, Planning & Programs to speak on “Strategic Statement on Coal Exploration and Mining in NSW”.


Research Fellowship Update

Peter Dupen has been busy seeking partners for the consultation project likely to be in the  Western area of NSW at Aurealia mine near Cobar and hopefully the COVID19 Virus doesn’t impede his progress too much. An update report on this will be provided to delegates at the meeting on 14h August 2020 on progress with the MOU and project.

Progress has been impacted by COVID 19 Virus possibly delaying progress with this project.

Peter has been working with DPIE staff on finding a suitable project and to suit their development approval timing, plus dealing with the UTS MOU requirements which has not been easy.


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.

Any photos of females in mining activities are welcomed to ensure our Strategic Plan is more inclusive. Enquiries to the Executive Officer.


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 and industry in Australia on various topics such as rehabilitation and post mining impacts on economies.

The national partnership was required to get the grant 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.

Since then, CRC TiME has set up their Board, appointed staff, developed the constitution and are working through the content of the Deed of Agreement with the Federal Government on the utilisation of the $29.5m research grant for 2020/2030:


  • The Grant is being provided as part of the Cooperative Research Centres Program (the program) which supports industry-led collaborations between industry, academics, researchers and the community.
  • The program is a proven model for linking researchers with industry to focus on research and development towards use and commercialisation.
  • The objectives of the program are to:
  • improve the competitiveness, productivity and sustainability of Australian industries, especially where Australia has a competitive strength, and in line with government priorities.
  • foster high quality research to solve industry-identified problems through industry-led and outcome-focused collaborative research partnerships between industry entities and research organisations.
  • encourage and facilitate small and medium enterprise (SME) participation in collaborative research.


The intended outcomes of the program include:

  • Establishing industry research sector collaborations.
  • SME participation in collaborative research
  • Collaborative research results
  • Research results relative to govt priorities
  • Increased research skills in industry and the entities involved


Renewable Energy Zones

The NSW Government is implementing three pilots and one of them is the 3,000 megawatt Renewable Energy Zone (REZ) in the Central-West of NSW as part of their Electricity Strategy, Net Zero Plan and the Commonwealth-NSW Memorandum of Understanding on Energy and Emissions.

To support this work, they have been seeking information from proponents of existing and proposed renewable energy, energy storage and emerging energy projects in the state through a Registration of Interest (ROI) for the Central-West REZ in June 2020 and received 38 responses from interested investors. The New England REZ was on exhibition to 31st July 2020.

The RO’s will help them understand the scale, location and type of projects that could be part of the three pilot REZ’s. By responding to the ROI, proponents will also help ensure their projects are considered as part of technical design and planning for the REZ.

They are committed to developing the Central-West, New England and South West REZ’s in partnership with communities and industry.

The Chair and Executive Officer of MERC along with the Mayor’s and GM’s of Dubbo Regional, Warrumbungle and Mid Western Councils (all members of MERC) were invited to meet the Minister for Energy and his team plus Transgrid, in Dubbo recently for their workshop on the REZ pilots.

At the meeting the Minister and his team expressed an interest in meeting MERC delegates on 14th August 2020, to outline details on the REZ. Their attendance has now been confirmed. A report on the meeting will be presented to delegates at the next MERC meeting in Orange from the slides provided. Speakers for the 14th August from REZ will be Directors Chloe Hicks and Stu Hodgson.

For more information about NSW REZs please visit, or email the team at

Submission to the Productivity Commission on its Review of the Infrastructure Contributions System in NSW

The MERC submission to the Productivity Commission has been extended until 28th August 2020 and will be distributed to delegates as information when completed. This is an extra submission building on the response to DPIE on EPA Act Contributions system by MERC who were asked by the Productivity Commissioner, Peter Achterstraat to make a submission. A copy of the submission will be forwarded to delegates & put on the webpage.


Related Matters of Interest – Mining and Energy Issues

Small, smart, community-owned solar farm on cards for NSW High Country Renew Economy, 21st June 2020 article by Sophie Vorrath on Baroota Solar Farm. “Plans to build a community-owned solar farm in the New South Wales High Country are taking shape, as part of a collaboration between specialist small PV project developer Meralli Solar and community renewables outfit Farming the Sun.

Farming the Sun, itself a collaboration with Starfish Initiatives, said on Thursday that it had begun work on the new project, after securing an option to buy what could prove to be a suitable site on the outskirts of Uralla.

The around 9MW project is being developed in partnership with Meralli, which specialises in building smaller-scale solar farms with a compact footprint, sensitive design, and good return on investment.

They achieve much of this by using the Belectric PEG framing system which requires no concrete footings and installs the panels less than one metre off the ground, giving the finished product an ultra-low profile, while also allowing for rapid installation.

In the case of Meralli’s 8.9MW Baroota solar farm in Port Germein in South Australia’s Spencer Gulf region, that project was completed in just eight weeks. And the completion of Baroota followed the September 2019 electrification of Meralli’s 9MW Kanowna solar farm near Moree, in NSW, described as “cutting edge” for its use of both DC optimisers and DC coupled battery architecture for central inverters”. For further details refer to www.

A timeline has been set for the approval of the Santos Narrabri gas project”. Article from Industrial Careers, 21st June 2020.

“Santos’s Narrabri Gas Project already has the backing of the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, which recommended its “approval with strict conditions”. The plan is to drill 850 coal-seam gas wells across 1,000 hectares south-west of Narrabri.

After three years of consideration, the multi-billion-dollar project has been referred to NSW’s Independent Planning Commission, with Minister Rob Stokes requesting a determination within 12 weeks.

The IPC deliberations will involve a public hearing. During the assessment so far, over 23,000 submissions have been made to the department.

The earlier approval of the plan said it would “not result in any significant impacts on people or the environment” and claimed “any residual impacts of the project can be reduced to an acceptable level by capping total water extraction to 37.5 gigalitres over the life of the project”.

Still, many farmers in the region say they are concerned about the long-term impacts of coal-seam gas on water supplies. Concern has also been raised about potential damage to the biodiversity of the nearby Pilliga State Forest and greenhouse gas emissions.”

“Solar & Big Battery Farm Fast Tracked for Yanco” Renew Economy article 26th June 2020:

“A 60MW solar and big battery project planned for the New South Wales Riverina region has been put on the fast-track as part of the third tranche of the state government’s Planning System Acceleration Program.

The Yanco solar farm, which is being developed by German outfit Ib Vogt around 1km west of the town of the same name, was listed in the Berejiklian government’s final 19 planning projects to have their assessments fast-tracked as part of a post-Covid recovery policy.

Projects considered for the fast-tracking program were required to have a development application in the system, deliver a public benefit, demonstrate an ability to create jobs during construction and once complete, and be able to commence construction within six months.

“So far this program has unlocked $1 billion of economic investment a week – far surpassing any other State’s planning acceleration programs,” said NSW planning minister Rob Stokes. “to date, 48 major projects had had their assessments finalised through the program, creating opportunities for more than 25,000 jobs and $13 billion in economic benefits.

“We’re establishing a new normal for the NSW planning system, with faster decision-making and simpler processes. And with local councils now following our lead with their own acceleration programs, NSW will remain the pounding heart of the Australian economy,” the minister said.

The 60MW(AC) Yanco solar project would be built on around 152 hectares of land, using single-axis tracker PV panels and on-site battery storage units of either 81MW/57MW rated capacity. Ib Vogt, which is an engineering company, as well as a solar developer, is also hoping to develop a 66MW solar farm just north of Dunedoo in central New South Wales, within the Warrumbungle Local Government Area.

”Covid and rooftop solar take another big bite out of Origin’s electricity business”  Renew Economy 31st July 2020, article: “The lingering impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and the record-setting uptake of rooftop solar PV have combined to take another big bite out of Origin Energy’s electricity business.

The company, one of the country’s big three energy “gen-tailers”, released its quarterly report on Friday which reveals a 7 per cent slump in electricity sales over the last fiscal year. In the June quarter alone, retail sales were down 9 per cent and business sales down 11 per cent. Covid-19 and rooftop solar are cited as the main reasons.

Australia’s electricity demand has been less impacted by Covid-19 as other markets in Europe and the US – where demand has fallen by up to 20 per cent. But no other energy market in the world is dealing with the same scale of uptake of rooftop solar, which continues to set records in Australia despite, or perhaps even because of, the Covid-19 impact on working arrangements.

Origin Energy CEO Frank Calabria didn’t make a big deal out of the fall in demand in his brief comments on the report, focusing instead on costs to consumers and their welfare.

“The pandemic has impacted natural gas and electricity demand and some residential and small to medium enterprise customers are facing financial difficulties. Our focus has been on supporting customers, and we have extended our commitments not to disconnect those in financial distress and to waive late payment fees until 30 October,” he said in a statement.

BP data highlights Australia’s awkward place in a rapidly changing energy world Renew Economy, article 18th June 2020.

“A large, annual data set curated by the oil and gas giant BP is released every single year, and it’s an awkward moment for energy nerds. The data is detailed, informative and unmatched elsewhere, but you know – It’s BP. Keeping that source in mind, it is still a fascinating insight into some emerging trends. Global emissions grew 0.5% – not good, but pointedly smaller than the average growth of 1.1% over the past ten years.

Coal’s share in primary energy dropped down to what BP says is its lowest level in 16 years. Australia was a ‘key contributor’ to the growth in gas production (23 of a total of 132 billion cubic metres of growth from 2018 to 2019), and is third in the list of countries growing gas exports (behind Russia and the US). Australia was also fifth in the list of increases in oil production, at 135 barrels per day growth.

In general: coal is growing stagnant, and in many cases beginning to fall. But gas is booming, threatening to slow emissions reductions, and Australia is playing a key role in that. Beyond the report, the data cubes themselves hold some interesting insights. Let’s dig into them.

1 – Australia has pretty good renewable growth, but it isn’t at the top of the world

For a short while, all you ever heard from Australia’s formerly renewable-energy-hating politicians was how Australia was ‘leading the world’ in terms of renewable energy ‘per capita‘. It wasn’t quite right, but it’s also correct to say Australia’s renewable energy installations are far higher than the global average. This is borne out by BP’s data map below.

2 – Australia is also leading the world on coal for producing electricity

This is slightly more straightforward. Australia comes in a health fifth based on 2019 data, in terms of terawattt hours generated per one million people. That’s because Australia has struggled to upgrade its electricity generation industry. It’s a bad look.

3 – Growth in zero carbon energy comes from renewables, but there’s still some way to go

Looking at the world as a whole, the dataset neatly outlines the total power generation from zero carbon sources. Much of the growth in recent years has come from wind and solar, but these technologies are still dwarfed by the world’s hydro and nuclear generation. That isn’t a bad thing; it simply means there’s still a lot more growing to do, and hopefully this trend continues past the COVID19 pandemic.

4 – Australia’s also a global leader in digging up coal

Poor old mining – so often forgotten in these charts. As you might expect, Australia is also a global leader. In the 2010s, it was third in the whole world by the quantity of coal produced within the country. That’s not the same as burning that coal, but it’s still a significant act in terms of global emissions. The United Nation’s Production Gap report highlights the fact that the extraction of fossil fuels needs to stop, as well as the burning of them. Australia’s going to have a reckoning about this in the coming years, and it’s not going to be pretty as it gets knocked off this high perch.


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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