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CVC’s confidential water and electricity business … $415k and counting

Geoff Helisma

Clarence Valley’s nine councillors unanimously resolved to “not make public the recommendation” regarding its discussions about “Essential Energy and Nymboida water supply assets”.

The report was discussed for about 40 minutes, at the October 27 council meeting, in a “closed session, as the matter and information are confidential in accordance with the Local Government Act 1993 Section: 10A 2 (d) ii”.

Councillors resolved to “adopt but not make public the recommendation” because the “resolution contains commercial information of a confidential nature that would, if disclosed, confer a commercial advantage on a competitor of [Clarence Valley] Council [CVC]”.

At this stage of the process, CVC has potentially spent $415,000.

Back in June 2015, CVC considered and subsequently signed a heads of agreement with Essential Energy “to progress a number of matters associated with the regional water supply”.

Negotiations, regarding who was responsible for what, were triggered by the extensive damage to the Nymboida hydroelectric power station and associated water infrastructure – caused by flooding in February 2013.

Councillors resolved at the time to receive quarterly reports to monitor the agreement’s progress.

The most recent quarterly report on the issue, which was tabled at the September 2020 CVC meeting, advised councillors: “Due to the importance of the weir and tunnel one, for securing the regional water supply, and the lack of any recent progress with these issues (as outlined in these [quarterly] reports to Council), Coffs Harbour City Council has engaged Water Infrastructure Advisory consultancy Clearwater Australia to assist with progressing the issues with Essential Energy. “Following a briefing from the two general managers, Clearwater Australia met with senior Essential Energy officers on Thursday 3 September.”

Meanwhile, at the June 2018 CVC meeting, Cr Richie Williamson’s notice of motion (NOM) to “fund an independent desktop investigation into the economics of Clarence Valley Council generating electricity at the Nymboida Power Station”, including solar power at the Shannon Creek dam, was supported by councillors Simmons, Lysaught, Williamson, Ellem and Baker; councillors Clancy and Kingsley were opposed and councillors Novak and Toms were absent.

Councillors approved spending up $40,000 on the desktop study – it cost $35,400.

At the October 2019 meeting, the desktop report was “received and noted” but remained confidential.

At that meeting, all councillors, apart from Cr Clancy, resolved to “hold discussions with Essential Energy, as the owner, to gain agreement on options for the future ownership transfer and/or potential joint venture opportunities” and, “subject to the negotiations … a scope of works be developed to enable quotations to be sought from suitably qualified consultants to undertake a detailed feasibility study into the recommissioning of the Nymboida Hydro Power Station”.

What has been spent on this initiative is not publically known, however, the October report to council advised: “Should council have the risk appetite to proceed further with recommissioning the Nymboida Hydro Power Station and, subject to the Essential Energy’s consent, Council would need to fund:

  • “Expert consultants and solicitors to facilitate negotiations (initial estimates being in the order of $100,000);
  • “Consultants to undertake a detailed feasibility study (initial estimates being in the order of $80,000); and,
  • “Consultants to complete the engineering design and construction management (initial estimates being in the order of $300,000).”

At the February 2020 CVC meeting, councillors resolved “that Council resolutions [in relation to] the Nymboida Hydro Power Station and … proposed purchase of property for water quality protection, which were passed in closed session, be adopted but not made public under Section 10A (2)-c of the Local Government Act, as the resolutions contain information that would, if disclosed, confer a commercial advantage on a person with whom the Council is conducting business”.

Councillor Williamson told the Independent that the October 2019 resolution “continues to be council’s policy”.

“[However], the associated issues remain confidential in accordance with the Local Government Act,” he said.

Also associated with the issue: at September 2020 meeting, Cr Greg Clancy moved a detailed six-point motion that would have, in effect, revealed some of the confidential business that has been conducted over recent times if it were adopted.

However, following some argy bargy-like discussion and attempted amendments among councillors, Cr Clancy withdrew his motion after general manager, Ashley Lindsay, answered Cr Peter Ellem’s question: “Are we still negotiating a heads of agreement; it wouldn’t be smart to telegraph our punches?”

Mr Lindsay: “Yes we are in the midst of negotiating with Essential Energy and NSW Water.

“We are meeting this week and (Cr Clancy’s motion if supported) would make it very difficult for us.

“I won’t comment any further.”

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