From the Newsroom

Clarence Valley Council and Essential Energy have agreed on terms to purchase “the disused Nymboida Hydro Power Scheme and associated water licences”. Coffs Harbour City Council will ‘own’ a 50 per cent share by way of its regional water supply agreement with Clarence Valley Council. Meanwhile, CVC’s general manager, Ashley Lindsay, said he doesn’t think it is “possible for council to re-establish the existing facility [pictured]” to generate electricity. Image: contributed

Water licence costs exceed promises

Geoff Helisma

After the 2013 floods damaged the hydroelectric station and the valley’s water supply infrastructure, promises were made when it came to who would bear the costs, however, most of those ‘promises’ were broken.

A recent Clarence Valley Council (CVC) media release, however, states, “We now officially own the assets and water licenses of the disused Nymboida Hydro Power Scheme.

“The historic deal was finalised on Friday, 5 November with the transfer of ownership from Essential Energy (EE) to Clarence Valley Council.

“The purchase price of $3,152,500 was funded from the Water Fund Reserve.

“The assets and water licenses of the disused Nymboida Hydro Power Scheme are now officially owned by Clarence Valley Council.”

The media release concludes, “As a part of the deal, Clarence Valley Council will also be responsible for constructing a fish ladder at the Nymboida Weir.

“‘We are committed to the health of the waterway, this includes maintaining environmental flows and ensuring the Nymboida River remains a healthy ecosystem,’ CVC general manager, Ashley Lindsay said.

“All outstanding responsibilities have also been taken over by Clarence Valley Council with the purchase.”

This is a different outcome to the one advocated by each of the players when negotiations began in November 2013, when EE’s then chief operating officer, Gary Humphreys, said a “collaborative approach” would ensure the concerns of all stakeholders would be considered.

Subsequently a working group was formed, and only one public meeting was held in May 2014 – it’s primary objective: to solve the problems by using a “whole of government approach”.

Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis subsequently said, “It will be my role to approach the various government departments to ensure they fund the works that need to be done.

“We want a guaranteed water supply, but in taking over the water supply assets, the council should not be lumbered with tunnels that have not been maintained, an aging weir, a crumbling building or the job of installing a fish ladder.”

However, as a result of the purchase, CVC will have to pay for the fish ladder, despite CVC’s contract with EE, which expired in 2008, stating that the cost of the fish ladder was to be shared 50-50.

A report to the June 2015 CVC meeting stated, “There will be financial implications with regard to the proposal; however, at this stage of the process the extent is unknown.

“It is intended that with the infrastructure works, suitable funding will be sourced from government.”

Mr Gulaptis told the Independent that he stands by his earlier statements and speech to parliament on the matter, however, he said he was “only asked to do a little bit during the whole process”.

He said he was “not sure” regarding CVC’s “intentions for the site” and that ratepayers should not bear the “expense of taking over [what was] state-owned infrastructure that could be in disrepair”.

Mr Lindsay was not available for comment when the Independent called, however, he provided the confidential resolution of the July 2021 CVC meeting, which adopted the $3,152,500 ‘Sale of Asset Agreement’ and noted that: “Coffs Harbour City Council is considering its contribution; water extracted under the licence can only be used for town water supply purposes and, accordingly, the existing infrastructure cannot be used for future power generation”.

Councillors also unanimously agreed (Cr Kingsley was absent) to “conclude any investigation into recommissioning the existing Nymboida Power Station at this time” – CVC has spent an unconfirmed amount of up to $100,000 on this initiative.

The fifth point of the councillors’ resolution: “Provide a confidential briefing to the Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis MP, on the sale agreement and process for the water licence transfers.”

Point six noted that “this recommendation is to remain confidential until the sale and purchase has been finalised and it is agreed with Essential Energy to make public disclosure”.

In relation to when a final report outlining all of the costs and infrastructure details would be available, Mr Lindsay wrote in his email that CVC is “still working through the establishment of a Regional Water Supply agreement with Coffs Harbour City Council; when this is finalised, I am sure a report will be provided to Council at that time.”