Tenterfield drives waste-to-energy investigation

Chief executive Terry Dodds and the Tenterfield Shire Council are keen to spearhead investigations into converting shire waste into an energy resource to feed onto the power grid.
Chief executive Terry Dodds and the Tenterfield Shire Council are keen to spearhead investigations into converting shire waste into an energy resource to feed onto the power grid.

Tenterfield Shire Council chief executive Terry Dodds’ project to explore the potential to transform the shire’s waste into electricity to be fed onto the power grid is gaining traction, with other councils supportive in principle of the initiative that may also relieve their waste woes.

Mr Dodds introduced the project to the other New England Joint Organisation councils at the Uralla meeting on May 28, to a positive reception. Those councils (Moree Plains, Armidale Regional, Glen Innes Severn, Inverell, Uralla and Narrabri along with Tenterfield) are now being asked to back up that support with cash to fund a feasibility study. The study aims to discover if waste can be converted at a local or small scale, versus what is currently being done in other countries at a huge scale.

Eighteen councils in two states, two territories and an island along with Regional Development Australia –Northern Inland have also been asked to chip in $15,000 each, to create a potential pool of up to $270,000. Following would be an application to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency for dollar-for-dollar funding, to enlist the expertise to research the options becoming available and their viability for many council-based operations.

Federal member Barnaby Joyce and state members Thomas George and Adam Marshall have already indicated their support. NSW is one of the few states to have a policy statement on generating energy from waste, although the Tenterfield-led initiative would be the first time the technology is put into practice in Australia on a small scale, should the project prove viable.

As markets for recyclables dry up and existing landfills approach capacity, a waste-to-energy facility could address waste problems by turning them into a resource. Techniques for the thermal treatment of waste include burning, incineration, thermal oxidation, gasification, pyrolysis and plasma, according to the NSW Environmental Protection Agency, the body behind the NSW Energy from Waste Policy Statement.

“The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) recognises that the recovery of energy and resources from the thermal processing of waste has the potential, as part of an integrated waste management strategy, to deliver positive outcomes for the community and the environment,” the statement said. 

“The thermal treatment of waste provides an opportunity to recover the embodied energy from waste, offset the use of non-renewable energy sources, and avoid methane emissions from landfill.”

Monitoring of any emissions and observance of ‘the good neighbour’ principle is enshrined in the policy, but Mr Dodds said any investigation needs to ensure that such a facility would have no negative impact on Tenterfield’s picturesque natural amenity.

He concedes that there will be an educational component to getting the community onside, as evidenced in reports of strident opposition to an ‘incinerator’ being built at Eastern Creek, Sydney earlier this year.

“To describe a Plasma Arc Gasification unit as an incinerator, because you’re old enough to remember your neighbours burning leaves in their besser block incinerator in the 60’s, is akin to describing the Voyager 1 spacecraft as a large aluminium can,” he said.

While the technical merits of the project are yet to be determined, Mr Dodds is taking a considered political approach to setting the groundwork to see the study progress. He has already met with federal minister for environment and energy’s senior advisor to Josh Frydenberg, to clarify that the feasibility study and its objectives would likely be well-received. 

Mr Dodds said his industry sources also confirm that small energy generation plants in the order of 250 kilowatt to one megawatt – such as a small council-based waste-to-energy plant – would be considered ideal extensions to the national electricity grid, as opposed to larger grid inputs, as the back flow would be more easily managed.

The wait is now on to see the response from the various councils as they consider the funding proposition through formal channels.

Tenterfield Mayor Peter Petty also presented the shire’s waste-to-energy proposition to the NSW Country Mayors’ Association meeting in Sydney on June 1, receiving unanimous support from about 80 mayors for the feasibility study. Mr Dodds has been invited to present a paper on the concept at the next meeting, in August.

Mr Dodds said this feasibility study is the most complex issue from a technical, environmental, legislative, logistical, and financial viewpoint imaginable.

“But the alternative is to keep hiding waste in ever-increasing holes hoping that it remains out of site and out of mind, which is an archaic and almost childish answer to an extremely complex issue.”