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‘Glimmers of hope’ power CVC’s hydro pipe-dream

Geoff Helisma|

All of Clarence valley’s councillors, apart from Greg Clancy, have supported a continuing investigation into recommissioning and taking ownership of the Nymboida hydro power station.

The initiative is the result of a notice of motion that Cr Richie Williamson tabled in June 2018 and a subsequent decision in May this year to accept power station owner Essential Energy’s (EE) request that any investigation is “subject to a comprehensive confidentiality agreement”.

Councillor Williamson said there were “glimmers of hope” to recommission the power station and that he “still believed that Clarence Valley Council [CVC] could be first council to be totally powered by renewable energy from Nymboida”.

At the October 22 CVC meeting, councillors received a confidential report – which cost $38,940 (inc GST) of a $40k budget – from GHD “on the desktop investigation into the economics of CVC generating electricity at the Nymboida hydro power station”.

The council will now “hold discussions with EE … to gain agreement on options for the future ownership transfer and/or potential joint venture opportunities”.

Subject to these negotiations, “a scope of works [will] be developed to enable [seeking] quotations … to undertake a detailed feasibility study”.

Beyond the completion of these discussions, staff wrote in the report to council: “Should council have the risk appetite to proceed further with recommissioning” the power station, subject to EE’s consent, the estimated costs are $100,000 for consultants and solicitors to facilitate negotiations; $80,000 for a detailed feasibility study and $300,000 to complete the engineering design and construction management plan.

Councillor Williamson said his motion was only “about holding discussions with EE”, and “future opportunities that may or may not be available”.

He said he wished the confidential report could be made public, “but them’s the breaks at this stage”.

Councillor Clancy wondered “whether the reconstruction of a hydro electric scheme … is worth pursuing”.

“Some councillors believe it is; I believe it is not because of the constraints,” he said.

“Councillor Williamson says all we are doing is opening up discussion … but [the report] does imply that those discussions will lead somewhere … to a commitment that could involve a lot of money, which I don’t believe is worth spending.”

Councillor Andrew Baker said he “believed we have some sort of obligation to pursue opportunities up to a certain point”.

“If we ever get to point three [undertaking a detailed feasibility study] in my lifetime, we will have done really well for the possibility that future generations can benefit from this; we might also get to the point where we don’t want to know anymore about it,” he said.

In his right of reply, Cr Williamson said that Cr Clancy was a “bit right”.

“There are a number of risks; drought is one … the Nymboida River is the lowest I seen for some time,” he said.

“If there was someone generating power there now they would not be generating one single watt of power….

“The report highlights a lot of risks, but this is about taking the next step.”

He acknowledged that CVC had declared a climate emergency, however, he said “we may or may not be in one, but there’s an opportunity here that could benefit the environment … the community [and] tourism”.

“I’m not saying it … will ever generate another watt of power, but I am saying that it’s too early not to progress the discussions at this point,” he said.

Councillors will receive quarterly reports on any progress made, similar to the quarterly reports regarding securing the valley’s water supply from EE, which has been the subject of negotiations since early 2013.

On this associated issue, staff warned that “proceeding further with [the] generation of power” is likely to make CVC “responsible for maintenance of the weir, cost of the water licence and installation of improvement works such as construction of a fish-way on the weir”.

No costs were attributed to this comment.