‘OPTIMISTIC’: Councils to continue talks over water supply

DESPITE some cryptic meeting minutes, and Essential Energy exploring options to put regional water rights on the open market, council staff are remaining positive.

Progress to transfer ownership of key water assets in the Clarence Valley and Coffs Harbour LGAs has been painfully slow but talks between the key players are set to resume next week.

Following the publication of somewhat cryptic minutes from a meeting between Essential Energy and a representative of Clarence Valley and Coffs Harbour City Councils, there has been some concern over the potential for the region's water supply to be effectively privatised.

Essential Energy own infrastructure and water rights at the decommissioned Nymboida Hydro Electricity Station.

The minutes show Essential Energy were seeking legal advice on a 2008 deed which CVC believe ensured Council would have first right of refusal when the assets were sold.

While CHCC is not a party to the original agreement, as a regional water supply partner they are involved in negotiations and director of sustainable infrastructure Mick Raby remains optimistic.

The Nymboida River is integral to the Coffs Harbour and Clarence Valley Water Supply Scheme.
The Nymboida River is integral to the Coffs Harbour and Clarence Valley Water Supply Scheme.

Mr Raby said despite Essential Energy's commercial right to privatise their assets he was not concerned the regional water rights would be sold to a third party.

He said the "overriding necessity" of ensuring secure access to water for two regional cities would "ultimately trump" the commercial drivers of a State-owned enterprise.

"By which I mean that the responsible Minister ultimately has step-in powers which can be used - although I do not believe we are anywhere near that point in the process at this time," he said.

In 2015 CVC entered into a Heads of Agreement with Essential Energy, which general manager Ashley Lindsay said was aimed at enabling the transfer of water supply assets to Council.

"We believe the original 2008 deed, subsequent correspondence between CVC and EE and the current Heads of Agreement entered into in June 2015 demonstrate the first right of refusal in the 2008 agreement continues to apply," he said.

The agreement also stated a 'relevant state agency' was to take control of some physical assets with the water titles handed over to the councils, however, Essential Energy have stated they do not wish to split the assets.

The Nymboida Hydro Electricity Station stopped generating power in 2013 after floods damaged key infrastructure.
The Nymboida Hydro Electricity Station stopped generating power in 2013 after floods damaged key infrastructure.

Mr Lindsay said the reluctance of any 'relevant state agency' taking ownership of the assets, staff changes at Essential Energy and their desire to dispose of the former power station were the main issues delaying the process.

Expanding earlier comments about the staff changes at Essential Energy, Mr Lindsay said senior management may not have had adequate background on the issue.

"Not a single member of the Essential Energy Executive was working with Essential Energy when the Heads of Agreement was entered into in June 2015," Mr Lindsay said.

Mr Raby agreed, saying he did not consider there to be any evidence of Essential Energy 'dragging their heels' on the issue, rather the stalled process was the "unintended outcome" of the staffing changes.

"These (staffing) changes appear to have understandably impacted the level of retained corporate knowledge or understanding of the HOA and its intent, within EE," Mr Raby said.

"The issue has now been resurrected within EE, with clarity, as a result of the recent direct approach to EE and I am optimistic there will now be some progress on the HOA intent."