"Transforming waste into a cleaner Cowra." Renewable Roadshow Guardian Australia

This response provides answers and information pertaining to some of the questions raised in the Guardian Australia article Renewable roadshow, "Transforming waste into a cleaner Cowra." It should be noted this is not a comprehensive response. Should parties wish to follow up further, please contact CLEAN through our email. Note that we are a volunteer community organisation and will endeavour to respond accordingly.

As previously indicated, the reports produced as part of the Cowra Biomass Project Development are not readily accessible on the website. These reports have however been provided to our partners and key stakeholders. CLEAN and its partners also acknowledge that significant investment, philanthropic, pro- bono and in kind contributions have been invested into the project development over the past three to fours years, with only a portion of these from public funds allocated to support specific project outcomes or deliverables.

The focus of the project has been to achieve an community renewable energy (CORE) outcome at scale and so has looked towards Council, agriculture and industry. As a small regional town, this makes up a considerable number of members and contributors to community.

The model being developed provides significant direct benefits to community through re-investment of profit for community outcomes, off set by decentralised energy generation, particularly on Council infrastructure. It also looks to capture the significant emissions abatement values within a community enterprise, with this currently being established as a perpetual fund and will have the capacity for localised investment in the infrastructure development. This model has the potential to be replicable and scalable.

In terms of the "cake" produced from process, this is not dissimilar to a high grade pasteurised compost, owing to the temperature of the anaerobic digestion  This will require processing to produce bio-based fertilisers with detailed analysis undertaken to ensure if it will be suitable for application to food based crops. In terms of the price point of this conversion, this is being established as part of the project development.

The total Carbon costs of the project of a biomass project are significant and complex. These include but not limited to, the aggregation of feedstocks, to the energy conversion and generation , to the emissions abatement from methane capture and potential use of CO2 for local applications. The project has identified localised nodes of biomass resources in order to limit the requirement for transportation. The transportation of biomass to a localised plant could offset the energy intensive requirement to manage crop "trash" post harvest.  (ARENA , the national renewable agency is developing a Life Cycle Analysis matrix which will be a requirement for all bioenergy project applying for federal funding.)

In terms of Municipal green waste streams, due to a current EPA moratorium around biosecurity, regional councils are required to certify compost if they are to sell it back to community. Most small regional centres don't create the volume or budget to process this waste and in some instances have sort to charge for processing.

CLEAN recognises AD is proven technology. However this is a novel approach to investigate and demonstrate the benefits of aggregation of biomass through co-digestion. Research suggests that there is an increase in the "gas-make" by combining two or more feedstocks in varying ratios in the AD process. Further more, on-site monitoring from recently conducted "ABC" trial in Cowra indicate as much.

(Sydney Water has been testing this for a number of years, transporting organic food waste to their AD facilities.)

As part of a CENTROC ( regional organisation of councils ) initiative, Cowra Council participated in a high level analysis for a Distributed Energy Plan conducted by ARUP in 2011- 12. This explored a number of options specifically for council's infrastructure, many of which have undergone further analysis and subsequently implemented upgrades.

This report explored the utilisation of renewable energy alternatives. Due to Cowra's location in the Lachlan valley, the report indicated that unfortunately due to being in a wind shadow, such technology was not viable for implementation. A number of Wind farms are located within a 75 km radius to the west and southwest of Cowra.

In terms of hydroelectric technology, a small turbine (18 + 4 mW) is installed at Wyangala Dam , 30 kms SW of Cowra.

In terms of Solar PV, the indication is that currently 10- 12 % of Cowra' energy demand is produced locally. In 2007 CLEAN initiated a community solar program that saw the implementation of over 100 systems as part of that program, which has seen a subsequent increased uptake of solar PV in the region.

It should be noted that bioenergy (biogas) has capacity for baseload energy generation and any current and future cost benefit analysis should take this into consideration. There is also the consideration of the other high valued bio-products made as part of the energy generation process. These may include substrates for bio- based fertilisers and phenol resins used in a variety of applications such as the pharmaceutical industry. CLEAN sees the Cowra Biomass project output as a potential balance to the energy mix.

In terms of establishing the benefits of the project development from a social perspective, research papers available through Bioenergy Australia indicate the potential for 1 new full time job per 1 GWhr/ annum of bioenergy generation. At full capacity the project proposes to produce 38 GWhr / annum, employing a diverse range of labour and skilled personal, from biomass handling and processing, through energy generation and conversion.

The PFS (pre-feasibility study), a high level analysis of the 12 mW project concept completed last year, utilised a decision matrix tool that assessed the impacts and benefits from an environmental, socio, political, economic and financial perspective. It also reviewed the technology appropriateness, risk assessment and management as well as an indicative assessment of the potential emission abatement as part of the energy generation component. 

( As indicated previously a more detailed analysis will be undertaken at each stage of the project development.) 

The findings of the PFS indicated that in order to proceed with the project development, CLEAN would need explore the following aspects further. 

1. The energy content of the available feedstocks.

2. The potential for selling generated electrical and thermal energy at a premium over the wholesale price

3. The Nutrient and soil amelioration value of the digestate.

This investigation has commenced with the recently conducted "ABC" trial.