Delegates, here is the May MERC Newsletter, submitted to delegates in very different times to what it was several monnths ago for your information, but it looks like there is some light at the end due to the reaction by government and the community. Most of the information in this newsletter is about MERC business 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 six 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 held on 7th May 2020 was conducted as an Executive Committee meeting using bluejeans.com video conferencing through Warrumbungle Shire Councils’ facilities with Chair and Executive Officer present in their chambers, with assistance from staff at the Council.
The Executive Committee is happy to continue this way for future meetings if required or for the August meeting and/or workshops. It worked well and the Executive Committee has given the OK for Executive Officer to look for options that can be part of MERC computer arrangements eg Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Bluejeans, etc for future meetings if needed.
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 bluejeans.com as its video conferencing facility plus they have a conference phone present in the chamber.
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 can be on it, at a future Special General meeting of 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 could still 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 will last another three to six months and likely will affect the August meeting of MERC.
The locations/dates for meetings in 2020 were agreed to be held at Orange on 13/14th August and now in Blayney in November. The meeting on 7th May 2020 agreed that Blayney will host the November 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 next 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 will be canvassed to ascertain how they would like to deal with this situation for the next meeting 13/14th August 2020 at Orange and given that delegates would have the dates and times already in their schedules, the Orange meeting in person may not be cancelled. If it is, then MERC would consider holding only an Executive Committee meeting to be held with delegates able to join by video conferencing, similarly to the May meeting.
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 has sought a response as to why the delay, given his commitments in March to release the document.
Mike has since acknowledged this and indicated that it has been delayed due to reforms being considered by the Government on EPA Act Infrastructure Contributions system made by developers having an impact on the VPA Framework and Guidelines. The Executive Officer has followed this up several times and lately indicated that he would get the Secretary, DPIE (Jim Betts) involved if a more informed response as to how the VPA is affected was not received expeditiously.
Resources for Regions (R4R).
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 and persistly chased the review team on the details but to no avail. 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.
Eventually Director Jonathon Wheaton and Manager Donatella D/Amico addressed delegates at the start of the meeting. on 7th May 2020 and were equally vague as to what is happening in this space:
- Jonathon indicated that there have been delays in finalisation of the review due to the state government being involved in drought, fires, water and COVID 19 Virus management issues which has affected the state budget which is now not being considered until December 2020;
- He indicated that any involvement M/s Suzanne Gillham has had previously with the review has been handed to Donatella D’Amico, so there has been no loss of momentum with the development of the new “Resources for Regions” program from a departmental staff perspective;
- The new Guidelines and Resources for Regions program have been completed and it is with the Minister who will determine when details will be released and Round 7 implemented;
- Staff are still aiming for a mid-year release of the program which will be based upon the criteria that have been displayed on the web page;
- The Councils that are on the eligible list will have their base amounts announced publicly and any additional funds, the government will advise the Mayors of the relevant Councils’ to announce;
- Whilst Jonathon was in a difficult position when asked to be able to give more specific facts, he was not able to as the matters were with the Minister to deliver, however he did point out that the content of the program was what was finally discussed with stakeholders;
- Questions were asked about Wollondilly being part of the new Resources for Regions and the response was that it had been considered but there was no positive indication that it was included in the new program by Jonathon. He was also asked if the level of openness and transparency had been improved in the new program and Jonathon indicated that it had been.
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 eventually which is part of the follow up by the Executive Officer after the May meeting.
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 has had an impact on MERC’s marketing campaign on 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 strategies outlined where discussions on the web page and the marketing content with the principal of Cibis has occurred and is being written to suit the 2020 -2023 Strategic Plan review changes.
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 was provided to delegates at the meeting on 7th May where a draft proposal has been received and adopted for signing 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. A draft has been completed by the Executive Officer and will be circulated to the sub committee for consideration in June 2020.
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 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 been conducting a series of webinars and have been overwhelmed by interest in them seeking to connect people into the research planning process for the recently announced CRC for Transformations in Mining Economies on topics such as regional economic development, operational solutions and risk, evaluation and planning. to Professor Anna Littleboy email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
Renewable Energy Zones
The NSW Government is working to develop a pilot 3,000megawatt Renewable Energy Zone (REZ) in the Central-West of NSW as part of the Electricity Strategy, Net Zero Plan and 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 this region through a Registration of Interest (ROI) for the Central-West REZ by 5th June 2020.
The ROI will help them understand the scale, location and type of projects that could be part of the Central-West REZ. 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 REZ in partnership with communities and industry and welcome your questions or comments on the Central-West REZ at any time.
The Chair, Cr Shinton and Executive Officer had a zoom conference with Minister for Energy and Environment and senior staff recently on the REZ where it is agreed that MERC become involved with the department to conduct a workshop on what the REZ is all about. This will put MERC in front of many non-member councils involved in renewable energy developments through NSW and is an exciting opportunity for the Association. Extending the boundaries to envelop Councils around Warren Shire Council in the REZ were considered as worthwhile extensions by the Minister.
Submission to the Review of the EPA Act Infrastructure Contributions System
The submission prepared by Oz Environmental and circulated to the Executive Committee for comment is in the throes of finalisation. It will be lodged by the due date of 12th June 2020, after that it will be distributed to delegates as information.
Related Matters of Interest – Mining and Energy Issues
“WHS Undertaking Rejected”, NSW Resources Regulator Weekly Bulletin, 29th April 2020. A WHS enforceable undertaking submitted by Maule’s Creek Coal Pty Ltd (MCCCPL) has been rejected by the Regulator.
The proposed undertaking was submitted following an incident on 21 April 2018 in which a haul truck and service truck collided at a major intersection on Maule’s Creek Coal’s haul road. The regulator rejected the undertaking on 28 April 2020 having regard to the seriousness of the conduct alleged, the maximum reasonable consequences of the event and the merits of the safety initiatives proposed.
Proceedings previously instituted against MCCPL in connection with the incident are listed before the District Court of New South Wales on 4 May 2020. See WHS undertaking proposal and reasons for decision. See also the final investigation report and video animation into the incident.
“Andrew Bray, Australian Wind Alliance 21st May 2020” His comments: ”We seem to be at the point where we’re emerging out of the COVID-19 shutdown. Some states are allowing greater movement and travel and schools and businesses are beginning to open again. It’s been a difficult time for many and a reminder of the importance of looking after each other.
While so many parts of the country came to a halt, there were still industries carrying on employing Australians and keeping the economy ticking over. One of those has been wind energy. There are still 22 wind farm projects being built across six states. Construction has continued throughout the lockdown with appropriate social distancing protocols put in place. These projects are providing thousands of jobs which are of vital importance for regional areas hard hit by the virus pandemic. One of those workers is AWA member, Cyrus Davies, who we’ve profiled here.
In coming months and years these projects will progressively come online, bringing an additional 4,560 megawatts of clean energy into the grid. Together with new solar plants, we will have more than enough new generation capacity to replace coal plants as they close.
There’s already plenty of discussion about how we can get our economy back on track once this crisis is in hand. Clearly, renewable energy projects, together with investment in new transmission and enabling technologies should play a major part in our reconstruction efforts. We’ll be focusing on how we can renew regional Australia through the post-COVID19 recovery.”
“Free Online Training and Coaching to Cut Energy Costs” New England Regional Development Australia May 2020 newsletter:
Energy NSW is providing free energy management courses for businesses to assist the management of energy costs and emissions. The training courses are available in flexible learning modules through their new e-learning platform and range from 20 to 45 minutes. Available topics include:
- Introduction to energy management
- Introduction to the Energy Saver Scheme
- Building the business case for energy efficiency projects
- Energy efficient HVAC for business
- Energy efficient lighting
- Commercial refrigeration
- Compressed air systems
They are also funding energy coaches to give your business a one-on-one check-up to show you ways to cut costs and emissions and help you apply for government funding to do it. Further information can be found on the Energy NSW website.
“Roadmap Leads for Gas, Mostly” 27th May 2020. Industrial Careers:
Energy Minister Angus Taylor has released a discussion paper on technologies to drive economic recovery in Australia. The “technology investment roadmap” considers over 140 technologies including hydrogen, renewables, biofuels and carbon capture and storage, but it is heavy on new gas development.
Despite methane emissions from gas being worse for the environment than carbon and other pollutants, the Federal Government continues to insists its development is Australia’s way out of economic and environmental turmoil.
Essentially, the plan is to have industries highlight which technologies they consider viable and useful. This information will then by used by the government to set a new emissions reduction target based on what the industries involved are willing to do.
Some have criticised the plan for being the wrong way around, suggesting the government should set an emissions reduction target, and then promote or develop the technologies needed to achieve it.
The government paper concedes that solar and wind are the cheapest forms of generation, it claims gas must still play an important part in “balancing” renewable energy sources.
“Flexible gas capacity will continue to play a crucial role in supporting variable renewable energy, alongside continuing growth in energy storage, demand management and innovative grid technologies as alternatives,” the document states.
“As the world’s largest LNG [liquefied natural gas] exporter, all of these factors will have implications for Australia’s domestic gas market and export opportunities over the long term.”
The Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA) – a major fossil fuel lobby – has understandably backed the roadmap. APPEA chief executive officer Andrew McConville says; “The discussion paper clearly identifies the need for a system-wide appreciation of our energy requirements and that there are different roads we can take to get there”.
“At a time when the economy is under significant pressure from the challenges associated with COVID-19, investing in cleaner energy technologies makes sense, from an emissions perspective and to strengthen our economy,” he said.
The document says Australia can develop a major hydrogen export sector that produces the next-gen fuel at below $2 per kilogram. It also describes emerging nuclear technologies such as small modular reactors as having “potential”, despite their lack of application anywhere outside a military setting so far. The discussion paper is open for feedback until June 21.
“COVID Commission backs Gas for Recovery” 22nd May 2020, Industrial Careers article:
Australia’s recovery from COVID-19 will be led by gas, according to the Federal Government. The government recently set up the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission (NCCC) to find ways to help the local economy recover from the giant hit caused by the pandemic. The NCCC has come up with one major idea – to have Australian taxpayers underwrite a massive expansion of the domestic gas industry.
The NCCC is considering a proposal to resuscitate a multi-billion dollar plan to build an east-west gas pipeline. It wants the government to underwrite new gas generators, and to get state governments to sign “contracts for difference” to further underpin gas supply.
The commission is also looking at ways to provide cheap capital for smaller gas companies, directly finance new pipelines and provide tax incentives for gas infrastructure, and to build “gas hubs”. Additionally, it wants companies to be able to jump regulatory barriers to fast-track these investments.
But the stream of pro-gas plans have prompted conflict of interest allegations, especially around NCCC member Nev Power, who was deputy chairman of gas company Strike Energy when the news broke last week. Reports say Mr Power has now “stepped back” from his position.
Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick says the NCCC is obliged to be open and transparent, including about the connections of committee members and potential conflicts of interest. “When you ask a lawyer a question you get a legal answer, when you ask a doctor a question you get a medical answer and when you ask a gas executive a question you tend to get a gas answer,” he said.
“I have a fear that’s what’s happening in this case. There is a perception of a conflict and that is problematic. One of the ways to address those concerns would be for the NCCC to open up its books to show alternatives [to gas] that were considered and enable people to see the cost-benefit analysis that’s been done to test the ideas that are coming forward. Transparency is a disinfectant.”
The Australia Institute’s Richie Merzian is concerned too. You have gas executives handpicked by the prime minister’s office charged with shaping the economic future of this country and talking about a gas-fired recovery,” he said. “A question that should be asked is whether the prime minister and cabinet should be stepping in before this becomes a serious political liability.”
But the Federal Government has been unashamedly in the gas industry’s corner. Also last week, energy minister Angus Taylor released the long-awaited “technology investment roadmap”, which appears to back gas over coal and encourage a shift towards renewable and alternative energy sources.
“Gold Mine Goes Green” 18th May 2020, Industrial Careers article:
A major Australian gold mine will soon get most of its power from renewable sources. Industrial firms Gold Fields and EDL have built a 56-megawatt hybrid renewable project connected to the Agnew mine in Western Australia.The facility should deliver up to 70 per cent of the mine’s power requirements.
In includes five wind turbines integrated into Australia’s largest hybrid renewable microgrid, which also controls a 10,710-panel solar farm, battery system and off-grid gas/diesel engine power plant.
The project was made possible by a $13.5 million grant from the government-backed Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) Advancing Renewables Program. Gold Fields vice president Australasia, Stuart Mathews, says it is an important move for the companies involved, but also the broader mining industry.
“For our people and our stakeholders, this is a very clear demonstration of our commitment to reducing our carbon footprint whilst strengthening our security of supply,” Mr Mathews said. “Having built our internal technical capability and developed strong relationships with our business partners, we are well placed to continue to implement renewables solutions elsewhere in our business.” EDL chief executive James Harman said it was a hard slog.
“We faced transport challenges during the bushfires and impacts on personnel from COVID-19 restrictions as well as geographical, logistics and technical challenges to safely construct this innovative energy facility in the remote WA Goldfields region,” Mr Harman said.
“Fossils allow Green Remit” 19th May 2020. Industrial Careers article:
The Federal Government is looking to allow its clean energy agencies to fund carbon capture and storage from fossil fuel projects. Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor has accepted 21 of the 26 recommendations from an independent panel reviewing the $2 billion Emissions Reduction Fund. He agreed to take on all recommendations relating to carbon capture and storage. The full report and the government’s response are accessible here.
The review panel, chaired by former Business Council of Australia president Grant King, said private investors may be more interested in the Emissions Reduction Fund if legislation is changed to “enable a method to be developed for carbon capture and storage”.
Mr King’s report also called for an “expanded, technology-neutral remit” for the Clean Energy Finance Corp (CEFC) and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. The panel believes this too could attract more private investment in technologies outside renewables, such as coal or gas-fired power incorporating carbon capture and storage.
It would be a big change to the agencies’ remit, which were created to promote the development of renewable energy sources. ‘Carbon capture and storage’ (CCS) is a largely theoretical process of capturing carbon dioxide from industrial processes and transporting for safe, long-term storage deep underground.
No CCS project has been successfully implemented on a commercial basis.
But still, Mr Taylor says the government is keen. “The government will target dollar-for-dollar co-investment from the private sector and other levels of government to drive at least $4 billion of investment that will reduce emissions across Australia,” he said.
The $2.5 billion Climate Solutions Fund was set up in 2015 under the Abbott government after scrapping a previous carbon tax. It pays polluters to use ‘cleaner’ technologies, and funds carbon capture through tree planting, soil carbon sequestration on farms, energy efficient systems in commercial properties, and methane capture from landfill and waste management.
The King report says that about 95 per cent of contracts issued by the Climate Solutions Fund have been issued to waste management and tree and vegetation growth. It recommends changes to the fund so that it includes public-private investment to develop an accreditation scheme for soil carbon capture, where farmers increase the organic material in their arable land.
The government is also expected to seek legal changes to allow the CEFC’s $1 billion Grid Reliability Fund to invest in new gas, hydrogen and coal projects relying on carbon capture.
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