The company that operates the Woodlawn bioreactor has announced plans to build a $600 million waste to energy plant.
Veolia Environmental Services says the Advanced Energy Recovery Centre (ARC) at its Tarago district eco-precinct will divert 380,000 tonnes (equivalent to 172 Olympic swimming pools) of non-recyclable waste annually from landfill to clean energy, using a power production technology.
CEO and managing director (Australia) Richard Kirkman said it would be enough to power 50,000 homes and would substantially reduce reliance on the landfill in the former mine void. Longer term, the pit would be rehabilitated.
"It is about implementing the next step in waste management because Australia is moving away from landfill. Planning and waste policy is developing," he told The Post.
"...We want to implement that step, which is energy recovery from the waste using a well developed state-of-the art technology."
The technology, to be housed in a specially built enclosed facility, involves drying and combusting non-recyclable waste at 850 degrees in a controlled air-flow environment. The process generates heat and steam which powers turbines to generate electricity for the grid and other uses.
By-products include ash and non-combustible materials like stones, grit and glass that can be processed into aggregates for the construction industry. Ferous and non-ferous materials are recovered from the ash and can be made into recyclable materials.
Harmful gases and dust would be managed onsite.
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Mr Kirkman describes it as a more advanced approach to waste management, as opposed to landfills, which were more "agricultural."
Veolia operates over 65 energy recovery facilities (ERF) around the world. More recently, it has been selected to operate and maintain Australia's first ERF in Kwinana, Perth.
Mr Kirkman helped build an older version in the UK in 1999. Since being appointed to the role last September he has kicked off a review of the company's technology in Australia.
"The core technology involves replacing coal with a more sustainable biomass fuel, (giving) greater control over emissions. It is cleaner," he said.
"Many countries have adopted it as a complete alternative to landfill. Australia is just on that journey now, with two plants in Perth, a couple in Brisbane and a number in NSW."
The bioreactor, which receives just over one million tonnes of waste annually, currently powers a solar and fish farm using energy harnessed from the operation. The site also includes a wind farm.
'Early days in process'
Planning for the ARC is in the early stages, with Veolia seeking initial feedback. Mr Kirkman and company representatives briefed Goulburn Mulwaree councillors in a closed session last week. They also met its community liason committee at Tarago on Thursday and the Tarago and District Progress Association on Monday night.
A development application, environmental studies and community consultation are yet to occur. The State significant project could take up to two to three years in the planning process and a further two years to construct.
The facility would be built close to the landfill. Mr Kirkman said the void would still be needed for waste that couldn't be put into the ARC but he expected less reliance on the landfill over time, also given greater waste re-use. The company plans to cover and remediate it by 2050.
The development will create 300 jobs during construction and 40 when operating, Veolia says. The company will employ locals, including engineers, mechanics and technicians "where possible."
The news, which took the community by surprise, came amid a series of odour complaints about the landfill, some of which have been reported to the EPA.
Community liaison member and Tarago Progress Association president, Kym Wake, said the smell remained a concern.
"We still have regular (odour) events but this is a new technology," he said.
"We're told that waste will be burnt to 850 degrees in a fully enclosed building, gases that are left go through scrubbers and that what's left is safe.
"TADPAI welcomes an open and transparent planning process that features consultation with the Tarago community and the EPA to assess the social and environmental impacts."
Mr Kirkman argued the technology allowed greater control of odour. As for immediate concerns, he told The Post that odour management was a top priority daily.
He talked up the wider benefits of the project, including employment, economic flow-on and continued royalties to the Goulburn Mulwaree Trust for hosting the eco-precinct. The council and company are currently negotiating on future payments.
The CEO said the company wouldn't build the facility unless it believed it had significant economic, social and environmental benefits for locals.
"We are really entering an era where we need to reduce emissions, address climate change and biodiversity or we're not going to have a very bright future for our kids," he said.
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