Yeah, nah – council has no incinerator plans but state leaves the gate open

Photo of an incinerator in the UK.

Susanna Freymark

The council has taken the step of publicly declaring it has received no proposals for an energy from waste facility, called an EfW or incinerator, in Casino.

The statement from Richmond Valley Council comes in response to what it calls “widespread misinformation”.

In September 2021, the Coalition NSW Government released its Energy From Waste Infrastructure Plan. That listed Richmond Valley Regional Jobs Precinct as a potential location for a thermal waste project.

Three additional regional sites were identified – West Lithgow, Parkes and Southern Goulburn Mulwaree Precinct. Each of these sites has a proposal for an EfW facility in the pipeline.

However, Mr Macdonald said council has no intention of building such a facility and no one else has come forward with a proposal to do so.

A Department of Regional NSW spokesperson said, “any proposal for an energy from waste facility from the local council or businesses would be subject to a separate and full assessment process under NSW planning legislation”.

Mr Macdonald said the council’s search for better ways to deal with waste had included investigating modern EfW facilities as a possible solution.

However, at its October meeting, council resolved to pause any active investigation of EfW facilities and to focus on other waste streams such as food organics and recycling.

He said although EfW facilities had been operating overseas for more than 20 years, they were new to Australia and federal and state governments were still refining the regulatory issues around them.

“Energy from waste facilities are too high tech and expensive for council to contemplate building, so any future proposal would need to come from private enterprise,” he said.

A private investor would have to determine whether such a facility was commercially viable, find a suitable block of land then go through a lengthy assessment and approval process with the NSW Government.

“If a facility was approved, it would take several years to construct and commission and would then be subject to 24-hour emissions monitoring by regulators.”

Because there are many unknowns in this scenario, the council has made no commitment to supporting the building of an energy from waste facility and was considering all options for its residual waste.

This is vital because the current practice of landfilling waste or transporting it to Queensland is unsustainable.

“Despite our successful recycling and organics programs, our community still creates more than 9000 tonnes of residual waste each year,” Mr Macdonald said.

“We transport most of this waste to Queensland landfill sites, at an annual cost of more than $2million.”

Mr Macdonald said most councils on the North Coast were experiencing similar challenges with waste and RVC had worked with 12 other councils to explore alternatives.

“Council is finalising the construction of a new landfill cell at its Nammoona facility, which will provide capacity for more than 10 years of residual waste from the Richmond Valley,” he said.

The State Government’s legislation allowing an EfW facility in Richmond Valley remains and if in the future a private company applies to build an EfW facility, the process would not be ruled out.

It will be interesting to see what the draft Regional Jobs Precinct masterplan says about such an incinerator when it is released before the end of the year.

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