Castlemaine

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: This is a response to a recent article, Castlemaine locals fight bioenergy project, published on The Fifth Estate

First, the article states that local residents of Castlemaine are of the opinion that the Mount Alexander Bioenergy (MAB) proposal is “a toxic solution to environmental problems”.      

On the contrary, we, the bioenergy subcommittee, Mount Alexander Sustainability Group (MASG), believe we have overwhelming community-wide support for our plan, which will lessen the toxic impact of the waste produced by our local and regional industries. 

This reserved and well considered support comes from many individuals who are active members of reputable and well-informed environmental groups other than MASG, and who recognise the overwhelming importance of reducing our CO2 emissions as quickly and efficiently as possible.

An independent study shows that the proposed facility would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 88,500 tonnes a year. 

The Don KR Castlemaine plant (DON) will provide some 20 per cent of the feedstock, currently transported to landfill, and will take 100 per cent of the energy generated in the form of biogas and steam, offsetting its use of natural gas as a fossil fuel energy source. 

The greenhouse gas emissions savings will be achieved by firstly reducing DON’s fossil fuel (natural gas and electricity) consumption, secondly by ending the transport and burial of wastes in landfill, and thirdly by diverting other carefully selected Central Victorian organic (not toxic) wastes from landfill.

The third point above is what CRAB refers to in saying that the proposal would “turn Castlemaine a stinking, noisy dumping ground”. This statement overlooks the fact that currently all of Castlemaine’s municipal rubbish is trucked out of town and dumped nearly 150km away in landfill north-west of Echuca. 

The proposed high-tech, innovative renewable energy facility offers us the ability to deal with some of this waste. And because of the technology used and the location of the facility, there will be a net reduction from current levels of noise and odour once our plant is introduced.

MASG is totally in support of moves to ban toxics recycling. No toxic or recyclable wastes will be processed in this planned facility.

Notes on the technology

CRAB has shared a misinformed statement that there will be a “polishing lagoon” with the purpose “to break down sewage sludge, pork fat (and even chicken waste from Hazeldenes in Bendigo) residues etc, before discharging it into the creek.” 

In actuality, the proposed plant will ensure carefully selected wet organic waste is processed and biologically treated by the biodigester. This is how greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced and energy recovered. 

No waste will be broken down in lagoons and discharged into creeks.

As part of the project, there will be post-processing wastewater, including truck washings, that will be required to be disposed of through the sewerage system. 

We are in discussion with Coliban Water as to the nutrient levels it will accept in this wastewater. It may be accepted without further processing, or it may require a degree of aeration. If aeration is required, we will explore the safest and most eco-friendly option. 

The biodigester

The enclosed biodigester is essentially odour and noise free. As mentioned above our plant will also take clean, (that is, non-toxic) organic waste from other Central Victorian sources. The EPA licence ensures that design measures are in place to limit odour and emissions from the biodigester, and is enforceable with severe penalties.

The pyrolysis gasifier 

MASG is categorically opposed to the burning of toxic wastes. We support efforts to prevent any deforestation achieved in the name of supplying feedstock to biomass plants. 

Pyrolysis breaks down the dry organic waste in an oxygen starved chamber. This plant will produce “green” steam to offset the “brown” (fossil-fuel derived) steam now produced in gas fired boilers at DON. It will also produce a highly valued by-product biochar, which can be used to supplement fertilisers, to sequester carbon and enrich farming and garden soils.

The concerns expressed by environmental organisations all relate to the burning (incineration) of mixed wastes, which typically include toxic materials. 

The design parameters and specifications for MAB’s pyrolysis plant prohibit this. The use of such feedstock is and always has been prohibited in MAB’s plant design and licence agreement with the EPA.

However, there is a small fraction of meat-contaminated cardboard and polyethylene (HDPE or LDPE) packaging wastes from DON that may be accepted. They are not considered to be of toxic origin as this polyethylene simply breaks down to CO2 and water, and would be permitted.

Location 

The hospital, public pool, Botanic Gardens and Mill Precinct are behind a hill and out of sight of the plant. 

Given there will be neither toxic emissions nor significant noise increase from the proposed project there will be no impact on any of these sites. With regards to the risk of explosions, the amount of gas at the DON site will be the same as it is now. 

Biogas produced by the plant will replace an equivalent amount of natural gas currently used. Biogas is chemically much the same as natural gas and less explosive. 

The purpose of the MAB plant is to reduce greenhouse gas and waste, and our goal is to contribute significantly to the reduction of extreme weather events, bushfires and more. 

It’s an excellent example of how the circular economy can support local communities.

Botanic Gardens and threatened species

The proposed plant will have a significant contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and therefore considerably help the survival of the threatened species (both verified by independent experts) mentioned with its contribution to minimising Climate Change.

Lastly, the article claims “Mount Alexander Sustainability Group did not respond to requests for information.” As a community, not-for-profit operating on a limited budget, our office is only staffed one day per week, hence our response was delayed. 

For more information on the planned Mount Alexander Bioenergy project please visit here: www.bioenergy.net.au

Michael Lewin, Chair, Bioenergy Subcommittee, Mount Alexander Sustainability Group 

MAB is a wholly owned subsidiary of Mount Alexander Sustainability Group (MASG). MASG is a community membership based, not-for-profit organisation committed to positive action to fight Climate Change.

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  1. If consumption is our biggest contribution to climate change, then we humans—as a whole—need a paradigm shift to ever make the required changes.

    My mind boggles, when I read that the Mount Alexander Sustainability Group in Castlemaine sees our current consumption as a fuel source to reduce CO2 and then designs a machine that requires more waste to operate it for the next 30 years? All for the benefit of a multinational to reduce input costs and continue importing pork from the other side of the world in refrigerated shipping containers for another 30 years. By the time the meat lands on the plate, gallons of diesel and crude oil have been consumed. Very, very unsustainable.

    I would join a sustainability group that promoted a softer touch. You know, the one that would run a co-op, so you don’t need to consume as much plastic. Or one that promoted healthy bodies and minds through gardening and veggie swap meets, and even a community house with a kitchen, where lives could be enriched.
    Then maybe, we might wake up to our poor behaviours and not eat animals, or fill our empty hearts with more and more stuff…

  2. This is a fantastic initiative that will convert wasted food processing organics into renewable energy and fertiliser. The small group of vocal opponents are like those opposed to wind farms or those who complain about noise from live music venues they moved next door to – they are more concerned about their property prices and motivated by their dislike of the 100 year old small goods factory they bought lifestyle properties next to – they don’t seem to care about the environment or the wider community. The majority of attendees at public meetings have been supportive of the concept and interested to hear how it will work. The facility would comply with all planning and environment laws and will not take any “toxic” or mixed waste. Only clean source separated organics will be received. The small band of vocal opponents continually misrepresent what is being proposed and refuse to rationally discuss what is actually being proposed. It’s all self-motivated. The environment will lose if they get their way, but they don’t care. Ironically, their misinformation campaign about the facility is probably impacting on their property prices more than the clean renewable energy facility ever will.

  3. So, according to Mount Alexander Bioenergy, the proposed facility has overwhelming community support and will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce noise, reduce odour, excludes the wastewater polishing lagoon shown on the layout, won’t emit toxins, has an EPA licence, will convert pathogens in meat waste packaging to harmless CO2 and water, be invisible, be as safe as houses and considerably boost threatened species. And the project will be developed, delivered and managed by a group of volunteers from an office that is staffed one day per week.

    About the only things missing are flying pigs from the feature picture and a publication date of 1 April.

  4. Contrary to Mount Alexander Bioenergy’s claims that it has “overwhelming community-wide support” almost 200 world-wide organisations, including Castlemaine Residents Against Biomass among 40 in Australia, have endorsed the Biomass Delusion Statement in opposition to biomass for energy proposals including that by Mount Alexander Bioenergy.

    https://environmentalpaper.org/the-biomass-delusion/

    Furthermore, 146 local residents and taxpayers petitioned Mount Alexander Shire Council during the height of Covid-19 restrictions last year, urging it to follow the lead of the ACT government and prohibit any new facilities for thermal treatment of waste by incineration, gasification, pyrolysis or variations of these within the shire.

    Council could have shown true leadership by adopting the position but chose not to saying any future planning permit applications for such facilities will be considered against the requirements of the Mount Alexander Shire planning scheme of the time.

    The divide continues and the requisite social licence will never be achieved for this toxic proposal which has been dumped on us without our prior knowledge or consent.