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Potential project ruled out for Wallerawang – so what now?

An Editorial Opinion by Rich Evans

Over the last two months the Energy from Waste debate has raged in the community. There was opposition, however there was evidence of growing support in the community of the economic benefit and potential enablement of future industries this may have bought to the region. I have made my position on that clear in a number of conversations.

That all came to an abrupt end with a social media post from Deputy Premier and Member for Bathurst, Paul Toole.

It was all very sudden, and in my view, didn’t give the time necessary for the community to fully understand the issue and make an informed decision, don’t get me wrong, I know there were people who had already made up their minds and would fight it to the bitter end, but the people I had been speaking to were trying to understand the full picture.

Looking past the sensationalised rhetoric of birth defects and ‘potential’ health risks, the numbers stacked up, it also dealt with a growing national problem, what to do with waste as landfills reach capacity. If the science and health risks are what some were claiming, then the greatest cover up in human history is taking place all around the globe where these facilities operate in cities and populations far greater than that of our region. There is no evidence that supports some of the claims.

In a modern society, there is no way that a project could have proceeded if there were any issues with the science, but that was the point of trying to have the regulation changed and include Wallerawang in the proposed map, so the potential could be explored. Now we will never know.

I have no doubt that this facility will still be built in regional Australia, and it will be an economic and investment stimulus to whichever region receives it, but there was not better place than Wallerawang given it’s already exisiting rail infrastructure and proximity to Sydney.

Failing to at least explore the opportunity has a far greater effect than a ‘win for the people’ as is being suggested by those that opposed the idea. It sends a signal to significant investors in the region that things are hard in this region.

There is also opposition to the current proposal for investigation of the feasibility of the pumped hydro facility at Lake Lyall. The DA before Council currently is for drilling test holes, not for building a facility, however once again the opposition to the project is sending signals that we don’t want change in this region.
However, change is upon us, and we either need to participate in the change and have a seat at the table or risk not getting what we need for our region.

I understand that the facility itself didn’t create a large employment opportunity beyond construction, but it would have enabled any industry that had power requirements to be attracted to the area through incentives, industries like manufacturing, data centres, protected cropping, and even further recycling and renewable energy initiatives.
The question is – what now? The Greater Lithgow Community Action Group have issued a statement applauding the decision, and offering to work with Greenspot to find suitable alternatives. A positive initiative no doubt, however who will pay for these initiatives? There was a proponent who was willing to invest $750M in Energy from Waste if there was a project able to move forward, that investment now disappears.

Coming up with ideas is one thing, finding investment and support is a very different matter and no disrespect to the action group, it is not something they are placed to do.

We now wait to see how the newly elected Federal government and their state counterparts will support this region, the infrastructure projects planned around roads and tunnels are fantastic, as are the tourism initiatives, but for Lithgow to take it’s rightful place as a leader in the renewable energy transition, we need three things: Unified Government support at all levels; Significant funds invested in the region; and most of all, a commitment to what all great innovators know only too well, an open mind to try new things and fail forward. It is the only way to grow.

“If you don’t go through life with an open mind, you will find a lot of closed doors”
Mark W. Perrett.

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