Yes, or no?

Mixed mes­sages on ethanol

Deniliquin Pastoral Times - - Front Page - By ZOE MCMAUGH

Will De­niliquin have an ethanol plant, or not?

Noone seems to know the an­swer. The long-awaited pro­ject was the sub­ject of a re­port in The Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald on Fri­day, in which Mur­ray River En­ergy di­rec­tor Greg Finn said they were com­mit­ted to pro­gress­ing a De­niliquin plant.

But the com­pany, pre­vi­ously known as Dong­mun Green­tec, is also pur­su­ing a plant in Mur­ray River Coun­cil.

And a scop­ing re­port to the NSW Depart­ment of Plan­ning, In­dus­try and En­vi­ron­ment sug­gests a Moama lo­ca­tion is be­ing sought be­cause of con­straints in De­niliquin.

The ar­ti­cle also re­vealed that Mr Finn’s listed share­holder ad­dress is the for­mer KFC and Ray White Real Es­tate build­ing in Hardinge St, De­niliquin, which has long been in­ac­tive.

The PAS­TORAL TIMES at­tempted to seek clar­i­fi­ca­tion on the pro­ject from Mr Finn.

We were told he was un­avail­able, and that a mes­sage would not be re­layed to him on our be­half.

When he spoke to the Syd­ney news­pa­per, Mr Finn told the jour­nal­ist they would be go­ing ahead with the De­niliquin ethanol plant ‘‘but just not at the minute’’, given broader eco­nomic cri­sis.

He said the KFC build­ing would be the com­pany’s of­fice when the pro­ject was fi­nally op­er­a­tional and that fi­nan­cial back­ing was still be­ing sought, telling the jour­nal­ist ‘‘we have agree­ments on the ta­ble so we’re very con­fi­dent’’.

In Fe­bru­ary 2018, be­lieved to be the last time he spoke di­rectly with the PAS­TORAL TIMES, Mr Finn con­firmed in­vestors for the $120 mil­lion pro­ject had been se­cured.

But he said ‘‘we can’t af­ford to go ahead with gas at the cost it is’’, while also stat­ing he hoped con­struc­tion would start within 12 to 14 months.

By May of that year ru­mours had started cir­cu­lat­ing the com­pany was in dis­cus­sions with Mur­ray River Coun­cil to build a plant in Moama.

By the end of 2018 Ed­ward River Coun­cil was threat­en­ing Supreme Court ac­tion to re­cover an amount of money loaned to the com­pany by the for­mer De­niliquin Coun­cil in 2014 to kick start the pro­ject. Land owned by the com­pany in Gee­long was sold to re­pay the coun­cil, which was fi­nalised in 2019.

More re­cently, a scop­ing re­port com­mis­sioned by Mur­ray River En­ergy to sup­port its Moama de­vel­op­ment ap­pli­ca­tion states ‘‘con­struc­tion of the pro­ject in this (De­niliquin) lo­ca­tion was not pur­sued as the (Moama) pro­ject site pro­vides sig­nif­i­cant ad­van­tages over the se­lected site in De­niliquin’’.

‘‘Given some of the con­straints to con­struc­tion of the ethanol plant at De­niliquin in­clud­ing prox­im­ity to rail and gas in­fra­struc­ture, bio­di­ver­sity mat­ters and Abo­rig­i­nal her­itage, Mur­ray River En­ergy has over the last two years been in­ves­ti­gat­ing sev­eral other sites in the gen­eral re­gion which are con­sid­ered prefer­able lo­ca­tions for the plant,’’ the re­port reads.

Ed­ward River Coun­cil Mayor Norm Bren­nan con­firmed the coun­cil has had no con­tact with the ethanol pro­po­nents since its loan was re­cov­ered in late 2018.

While he said noone is giv­ing up on the De­niliquin pro­ject, Cr Bren­nan is not con­fi­dent it will pro­ceed.

‘‘We have not had con­tact with the com­pany since we re­cov­ered the money; I didn’t even know they changed their name to Mur­ray River En­ergy,’’ Cr Bren­nan said.

‘‘We would still like to see the pro­ject come to fruition, but be­cause there has been no con­tact I think it tells us that De­niliquin is not their pre­ferred lo­ca­tion now.’’

Con­tro­versy has fol­lowed the pro­ject to Moama, with Mur­ray River Coun­cil crit­i­cised for pur­chas­ing land on be­half of the com­pany at a cost of $1.2 mil­lion.

Neigh­bour­ing land­hold­ers say the pur­chase was made with­out any com­mu­nity con­sul­ta­tions.

The coun­cil also re­port­edly ap­proved a $900,000 in­vest­ment to Mur­ray River En­ergy in March 2019, in re­turn for the mort­gage of a Vic­to­rian prop­erty.

Dis­cus­sions to build a De­niliquin ethanol plant started in 2013 when Korea-based Dong­mun pres­i­dent Sung Ho Joo made his first trip to De­niliquin.

A 147.18ha in­dus­trial block on Barham Rd was al­lo­cated for the plant, which is ex­pected to be large enough to pro­duce 110,000 kilo­litres of ethanol each year and up to 92,000 tonnes of dried dis­tilled grain.

Ap­proval for the de­vel­op­ment was ob­tained by the NSW Gov­ern­ment in 2016.

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