Yes, or no?
Mixed messages on ethanol
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.