MERC Newsletter – January 2020


Delegates, here is the January MERC Newsletter, we hope you had a very restful Christmas and a fun New Year, but its back to work now! This newsletter has a lot of important information and interesting articles in it for you to read. 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.


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 foreword has now been signed by MERC and NSWMC Executive Officers. The DPIE (Executive Director, Mike Young) has it to sign off on before circulation.


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

In our pursuit of the R4R being changed to suit mining affected Councils, the MERC working party has been very active, as previous newsletters have outlined. The working party was not required for a January meeting as initially indicated, however Suzanne Gillham from the Resources NSW team has been in contact with the Executive Officer about their progress with the review and will convene a further meeting in due course, if required in 2020.

Resources NSW have chosen MERC to be the primary consultation entity for Local Government on this and the working party has already been involved in several meetings to develop the proposed changes to the Resources for Regions Program. Details on progress with the proposed reforms are up on the DPIE website.


Regional Advisory Forum (RAF)

The Executive Officer has asked the Senior Policy Officer (Ben Lathwell) from the Minister for Planning & Public Spaces (Hon Rob Stokes) office on the intention of the Minister to continue with the RAF.


Next Meetings of Association for 2020

The locations/dates for meetings in 2020 will be Sydney 4/5th March (Executive Committee meets at 2pm on 4th, Ordinary  Meeting at 9am on 5th March, in the Club York premises); at Blayney 7/8th May 2019; Orange in August (dates TBA) and Sydney in November (dates TBA).This fits in with Country Mayors Association (6/3/20, 29/5/20, 7/8/20 & 6/11/20) and the member Council meeting cycles.

Unfortunately the Local Government Professionals have programmed meetings that clash with MERC’s Ordinary meeting on March 5th, which some of the General Manager delgates will be attending both at various times, hopefully this is one off for March 2020 only as Councils are “bundling” their meetings when they are held in Sydney.


Membership Campaign

The Association has adopted a Marketing Policy to ensure membership increased by targeting more renewable energy development affected LGA’s in NSW to formalise and strengthen the membership campaign.

At the Ordinary meeting in Gloucester, the meeting campaign for 2020, was agreed and consists of being able to upgrade the website with a membership page; attend the LGNSW Annual Conference in Hunter Valley (with setting up of a stand and to conduct a concurrent session on benefits); address a Country Mayors Association meeting; target mining & renewable energy Councils and find champions that show an interest in energy issues and MERC’s objectives, etc.These actions are being followed up by the Executive Officer.

If any delegates have any colleagues in Local Government that may be interested in being part of our voice, please contact the Executive Officer. Several Councils have expressed interest in joining and are being pursued by the Executive Officer. Word of mouth is a very powerful tool in the attraction of members as is finding champions in the LGA’s with interest in the resources and energy sector.

MERC has suffered in the past with changes to the Elected and Executive leadership at various former member Councils with the incoming leadership having a penchant for reviewing long term memberships of various entities, cancelling memberships of them for fiscal reasons without fully understanding the value those networks have intangibly for Councils and their communities.


Speakers for next meetings of MERC

MERC is continually pursuing the following speakers for future meetings:

  • 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;
  • 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.

Note that Minister Stokes office has advised he is unable to attend our meeting on 5th March 2020, due to Parliament sitting, but is happy to respond to any questions through his Senior Policy Officer (Ben Lathwell) from delegates, if needed.

Minister for Agriculture and Western NSW, Hon Adam Minister has been in touch and has the same issue with Parliament sitting on 5th March 2020 however he is looking at his options in order to attend.

Meanwhile, Andrew Bray, Australian Wind Alliance, (he addressed delegates at the wind workshop, November 2018 at Crookwell) is happy to attend and update delegates on their Annual Conference held in Ballarat last year where he will talk on what other states and LGA’s are doing with renewable energy developments, not just wind, the benefits to the community and how MERC as an Association and members can lead this to assist with membership growth, guide community, etc.

Peter Dupen, PhD aspirant will also provide a short update at the next meeting on the progress and discuss with delegates potential projects to fit the Participatory Modelling engagement program. This will assist with the development of actions for our Strategic Plan 2020 – 2023.


Life Membership Updates – Col Mitchell (ex Wollondilly Shire Council)

Life membership badge, plaque and certificate will be presented to ex Chair of the Association (former Mayor and Councillor Wollondilly Shire Council), Col Mitchell on Thursday the 5th March to catch up with delegates.Chair Peter Shinton will be assisted by Cr Michael Banasik, Executive Committee member and a delegate from Wollondilly Shire Council.


Research Fellowship Update

PhD student (Peter Dupen) has managed to get the DPIE on side to put $20k into the project and has $10,000 from the NSW Minerals Councils, MERC has committed $40k over two years. With a $70k program albeit not as much as we would have liked, it still enables the UTS to seek government funding. Peter is actively canvassing other entities to be involved in the project as sponsors and is seeking other grant options too.

He and supervisors have been concentrating on 3 main tasks – progressing the design of the engagement process and evaluation framework; seeking agency support for the project and further funding for the project.

In recent discussions with the PhD student (Peter Dupen), arrangements are being made to undertake the following by the end of February 2020:-

  • develop a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the UTS which will outline details on insurances, performance measures, exit strategies, roles, finances, disputes, etc., once all sponsors, funds and details are finalised;
  • prepare sponsorship contracts;
  • determine and prepare a project plan with budget estimates, timelines, dependencies and other key aspects;
  • discuss when funds are to be made available (possibly due to be commenced August/September 2020).

Important – Next step is a discussion on what projects would suit the Participatory Modelling PhD engagement project. Peter says ideally is to find a mining project (in view of a higher benefit can be achieved from Participatory Modelling for this type of development) within one of MERC’s member Council domains which will be in its scoping phase around August or later this year. This will be tricky to achieve and a fallback position would be a renewable energy project in NSW. Once a project is identified, we would need cooperation form those involved in the trial engagement process. Again this will not be easy or quick.

Members can contact Peter on 0438 729 164, or to discuss any projects your Council may have in mind or developments that are in the pipeline. This will be on the Agenda for the meetings 4/5th March 2020 to finalise a project to suit the foregoing. If you have any ideas, then please raise them with Peter before the meeting or the Chair or Executive Officer.


Strategic Plan 2020 – 2023 Review

The 2018 – 2020 Strategic Plan review will commence at the next round of meetings, initially with Executive Committee then delegates.Have a look at the current plan and any actions , ideas for MERC to pursue will be well received.


Two year terms for Executive Committee

At the last Ordinary meeting in Gloucester in General Business it was raised that MERC consider the Executive being elected for two year terms. MERC Executive Committee comprises Chair, two Deputy Chairs and three other delegates with all to come from separate council areas and they are elected annually.

Recent changes to the Local Government Act have resulted in two year terms for the election of Mayor and optional one or two years for Deputy Mayor, which has highlighted the need for the annual terms of the Executive Committee, either all or in part, be listed for discussion by delegates. Accordingly the issues will be initially discussed at Executive Committee level on 4th March 2020 and delegates at the Ordinary meeting, next day. Any changes to the constitution will take place in a future Special General Meeting.


Related Matters of Interest – Mining and Energy Issues

“Wollongong going green 19th December 2019, Industrial Careers, article says:

“One of Australia historic industrial centres has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2050. Wollongong, home to country’s biggest steel producer, has set itself two ambitious goals – for an operational target of zero net emissions by 2030 and to be completely carbon neutral by 2050. It is the 26th council in Australia to adopt such a reduction timeline. The 2030 target will require a reduction of 2.7 per cent — or 74,251 tonnes — per year.

The Wollongong Council is looking for around half of its savings through landfill gas capture, but will most likely need hundreds of thousands of dollars in offsets to fully achieve the goal.

One of the city’s biggest names, BlueScope Steel, produces around 3 million tonnes of steel a year at the Port Kembla works. This process generates 7 million tonnes of carbon emissions per year through production and electricity use – around 1.4 per cent of the nation’s total. The steelmaker has committed to a 1 per cent emissions reduction year on year to 2030. However, BlueScope chief executive, Mark Vasella, says carbon neutrality is not technically possible. “To date, there is not a technology that is commercially available or viable that sees virgin steel produced with coal and iron ore that is carbon neutral,” he told reporters.

Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery says the rest of Australia must share in the burden. “There is a moral imperative for the rest of Australia to help the Illawarra manage the responsibility of emissions from the local steel industry,” he said.

“Wollongong has shouldered the weight of Australian heavy industry for a long time, and the rest of the nation needs to help.” Refer for further details.


Canavan consults on gas plan” 17th January 2020, Industrial Careers, article says:

The federal resources minister is looking at a new gas reservation policy. The Morrison government has announced a new policy to ensure Australia has enough gas. Federal Resources Minister Matt Canavan will spend the next 12 months working with state and territory counterparts to develop a potential national gas reservation policy.

The nation currently has a program known as the Australian Domestic Gas Security Mechanism, which is meant to ensure natural gas supplies are adequate for projected domestic demand. A recent review found the mechanism, introduced in 2017, has helped lower domestic gas prices and secure supplies.

But Senator Canavan says businesses are still struggling. “Some price offers remain higher than I want to see, especially when international LNG prices are low,” Senator Canavan said in a statement.

“We can’t repeat the mistakes of the past in just letting our gas be shipped overseas with no thought to our domestic requirements.”

Meanwhile Energy Minister Angus Taylor is attempting to boost Australia’s gas production by pressuring states, particularly Victoria, which has a moratorium on onshore gas exploration. For further details refer to


Wyatt green lights uranium plan 20th January 2020, Industrial Careers article:

Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt has approved further uranium exploration in the NT.

Traditional owners have joined Mr Wyatt in signing off on the new exploration proposal for the Eclipse Metals uranium, gold and palladium mine in the Northern Territory. The planned project is waiting on approval from the NT Resources Minister, but the company appears confident that it will be granted.

The exploration will occur at a site known as Devil’s Elbow, within Arnhem Land’s Alligator Rivers Uranium Field, about 65 kilometres east of the Ranger Uranium Mine. The area has been explored and abandoned by several other companies in the past.

Eclipse Metals says it has an agreement with traditional owners through the Northern Land Council (NLC). “The terms of the agreement are quite viable in the current market economy, allowing us to develop the Devil’s Elbow’s full potential,” director Carl Popal said in the statement. “The company looks forward to working closely with the traditional owners and the NLC in making the most of each exploration field from 2020, with bilateral benefits.”

Environmental engineer Gavin Mudd, an RMIT professor who sits on the scientific committee responsible for nearby rivers, is sceptical about the proposal. He says the region has already been heavily explored for more than 60 years. “Sometimes you find something that other drillers and other explorers have missed, but often that’s not the case, it’s actually pretty rare,” he said. “There’s not a long-term prospect there. “I think when you’re looking at the uranium industry globally the future is not bright at all, that’s certainly how I read the tea leaves.”

He also pointed to the nearby decommissioned Nabarlek uranium site, which ceased operations in 1988 and has not been properly rehabilitated. “We know there’s still erosion issues, we know there’s still weed issues, there’s still infrastructure left on site that was supposed to have been removed during rehab but wasn’t,” he said.

“Then you look at Ranger, which is an extraordinary large rehabilitation legacy that’s costing hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to rehabilitate. “We’re going to have to monitor that for decades and probably centuries to come.”


AER backs new link 27th January 2020, Industrial Careers article:

“The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) says there is a ‘robust’ business case for a planned $1.5 billion electricity interconnector between South Australia and New South Wales. The energy regulator has approved Electra Net’s plans to carry out a “regulatory investment test” (RIT-T) on ‘Project Energy Connect’.

The approval means a consultation process can begin to examine the public economic benefits of the proposed 900-kilometre link between Robertstown, north-east of Adelaide, and Wagga Wagga, in New South Wales. Proponents say the interconnector will provide lower power prices, improved energy security and an economic boost in South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria.

AER chair Clare Savage says the interconnector is the best option for meeting the needs of consumers. “We’ve tested the reasonableness of Electra Net’s inputs and assumptions across a range of scenarios and found that the project, as set out in the RIT-T, is robust and will deliver a net economic benefit to Australian energy consumers,” she said.

But the regulator doubted Electra Net’s claims that the project would create an economic benefit of around $924 million. The authorities estimate closer to $269 million in benefits. “Electra Net assumed that without the interconnector, substantial gas-fired generation would be needed to keep the lights on in South Australia even with considerable new investment in wind, solar, batteries and synchronous condensers,” Ms Savage said. “We requested Electra Net update their modelling to reflect AEMO’s system security requirements and to allow these cheaper sources of generation to compete in the market — this reduced the benefits of the interconnector substantially.

“While the benefits to energy consumers may be smaller than set out in the RIT-T they are still substantial and the interconnector therefore satisfies the requirements of the process.”

If all goes according to plan, the new interconnector should be in place by the time the coal-fired Liddell Power Station retires from the market in New South Wales”.


The Clean Energy Council welcomes the approval of the SA-NSW interconnector, Clean Energy Council media release, 24th January 2020: 

“The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) announced today it has approved the new South Australia-New South Wales interconnector, which will allow for the further development and integration of high-quality, low-cost renewables into the electricity system.

The interconnector will form a crucial element of the energy network for the future, connecting communities and businesses in the east of NSW with clean energy sources in western NSW, SA and Victoria, resulting in increased reliability in readiness for the anticipated closure of ageing coal-fired generators in NSW. Clean Energy Council Director Energy Transformation Lillian Patterson said the decision was a positive move by the AER as it demonstrates the benefits that interconnection and renewables have for consumers. “We strongly support the project, which passes through multiple renewable energy zones and will allow new renewable energy projects to connect to the National Electricity Market,” Ms Patterson said.

“Connecting more renewable energy projects will provide us with lower-cost and more diversified supply, which will increase reliability and ultimately result in lower energy prices for customers. “This interconnector is important for the future of Australia’s National Electricity Market, as it builds a more flexible and resilient power system with more sources of clean energy. “This interconnector will also generate new jobs and investment in regional areas, not just from the interconnector itself but also from new renewable energy projects.”

According to the AER, the interconnector project satisfies the regulatory investment test for transmission (RIT-T), which demonstrates the project will deliver benefits to energy consumers.

Construction can now commence on the interconnector, which is expected to be completed progressively through 2022 to 2023.

Please contact Clean Energy Council Digital & Marketing Manager Andreas Wenzel on 03 9929 4114 for more information or to arrange an interview.       


Climate change costs loom, 29th January 2020, Industrial Careers article:

“Economists say Australian living standards will slip due to the cost of a changing climate. BIS Oxford Economics chief economist Sarah Hunter says with more investment going towards adaptation and mitigation technologies, there will be less available to aid the economy’s productive potential.

BIS has been analysing the cost of climate change and the financial impact of this season’s bushfires on tourism, retail spending and agriculture in particular. Dr Hunter says initial estimates suggest tourism will see a $4.5 billion loss this year. “There’s obviously significant concern that that shift in sentiment and the perception of Australia as a clean and safe and very pleasant destination to travel to will have a significant negative drag on our tourism sector,” she said.

For agriculture, the existing effects of drought will only be exacerbated by “additional loss of livestock, the beef herds and the sheep herds in particular”. The economists are also concerned about consumer sentiment and confidence. “That’s a significant drag on the economy. In terms of expenditure, consumption is the largest component of GDP,” Dr Hunter said. “And if consumption is weak it’s very hard for us to see a marked acceleration in GDP growth over the forecast horizon.”

She expects retail figures will undergo a “double whammy”, with a subdued domestic environment as well as losses from tourism. The analysis is just an estimate for now, national accounts data to be released in June to provide a clearer look” Refer for further information.


Open letter demands action, 29th January 2020, Industrial Careers article:

“Eighty of Australia’s top academics have declared an “urgent need for deep cuts” to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. An open letter from a group of Australian Research Council (ARC) Laureate Fellows describes Australia as “ground zero for both climate impacts and climate policy uncertainty”.

The experts warn that the world may not support human societies “in their current form and maintain human well-being” without action. Researchers have done a lot of the hard work in identifying policies and technologies to address the solution, but “what is lacking is the courage to implement them at the required scale”, the letter states.

It calls on the government to “acknowledge the gravity of the threat posed by climate change driven by human activities” and “reduce greenhouse gas emissions in time to safeguard against catastrophe. We owe this to younger generations and those who come after them, who will bear the brunt of our decisions.”

The letter, signed by 80 past and present ARC Laureate Fellows, notes that scientists forecast today’s impacts decades ago. Signatories to the letter include top academics from the fields of economics, healthcare, history, law, and many other scientific disciplines. “We’re a small group that has been selected by the Australian Research Council as the top researchers in our respective fields,” coordinator Professor Steven Sherwood said. “It’s a good group to think about all aspects of the problem — it’s not just a science problem. It’s a problem that spans all of those areas.”

They say adapting to future fires is not enough. “The current impacts are happening with just one [degree] Celsius of global temperature increase, but we are set for the best part of another degree even if very strong international action is taken to reduce emissions,” the letter states. “If strong action is not taken, environmental degradation and social disruption will be much greater and in many cases adaptation will no longer be achievable. “It would be naive to assume that such a world will still support human societies in their current form and maintain human well-being.”

They experts know that the transition will be painful for some communities. “For example, we probably need to provide economic support to coal-mining regions,” Professor Sherwood said. “Many mining jobs are set to disappear no matter what our governments do, so this would be a concern even if we didn’t care about the planet’s future.” For further details refer to



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,