A DEDICATED group of cane farmers in the small town of Ingham, 100km north of Townsville, are today celebrating after the State Government approved their application to build a $425 million sugar/ethanol/power generation facility.
The 210 farmers are all shareholders in North Queensland Bio-Energy Corporation Limited (NQBE), a company formed in 2004 by Ingham accountant, Robert Carey, with the aim of increasing the revenue streams for local growers by diversifying and sustaining their sugar business.
The state-of-the-art facility will be the first of its kind in Australia. It will have a crushing capacity 2.5 million tonnes of sugar cane per annum, producing 330,000 tonnes of sugar (both raw and refined), an ethanol distillation capacity of 200,000 litres of ethanol per day and generation capacity for 80-85 megawatts of renewable power, 60-65 megawatts of which will be available for export into the States power grid.
Queensland Attorney-General, Minister for Local Government and Special Minister of State, Paul Lucas, acting under "call-in" powers designed to assess projects of State interest, announced today that the NQBE project had been approved.
NQBE Chairman, Mr Robert Carey said he was absolutely delighted with the outcome and thanked Mr Lucas and his parliamentary colleagues for their vision and forward thinking.
"The Australian sugar industry has been stuck in a time warp, with aged milling equipment and a focus on producing a single product. This new multi-functional facility will set a new benchmark for the industry that other sugar farming regions are certain to follow," Mr Carey said.
"These multi revenue factories, incorporating the very latest in technology, have been operating successfully in third-world countries such as Brazil, Vietnam, Thailand, India and Indonesia for many years now. It's a real shame that the so-called leaders of the Australian sugar industry have not had the vision or the courage to embrace this technology. With extra revenue generated and with proper revenue sharing arrangements in place, it is a win - win situation for both millers and growers.
"Add in the second generation cellulosic technology to the equation and you then have a facility that will process sugar cane, timber, green municipal waste and other crops, such as sweet sorghum. The potential is enormous" Mr Carey said.
Mr Carey said that he was extremely pleased that the NQBE facility would achieve a number of objectives including being at the forefront of change for the Australian sugar industry, assisting in providing additional power security for North Queensland and also assisting Premier Anna Bligh in achieving her government's goal of having Queensland become the renewable energy hub of South East Asia and the Pacific.
"The NQBE facility, in its present configuration, will produce enough renewable energy to power approximately 24,000 homes. If this model is adopted in other sugar growing regions of the State, the power generated would match the coal-fired Gladstone Power Station."
Mr Carey said a huge shortage in ethanol supply in Australia and throughout the world, particularly in Asia, would contribute to the viability of the NQBE plant.
"We have not only had enquiries for ethanol from Australian fuel companies, but we have also had enquires for large volumes of ethanol from Japanese, Chinese and Thai companies. This certainly is a slightly different position to those in Australia who argue that ‘there is no money in ethanol'. As a product from an integrated facility, ethanol is very profitable, particularly when it is produced from bio-mass using second generation cellulosic technology"
Mr Carey paid tribute to NQBE shareholders, fellow Directors, and the company's small team of staff for their "loyalty, determination and hard work".
"In many ways, it was the backward and negative thinking from industry leaders that made the NQBE shareholders more determined to succeed and try and get this project off the ground. I guess that the State Government's approval vindicates their commitment, however, having received the approval, there is a lot more work to do and the Board can now move into the next phase of this operation.
"The reliance on a single industry, producing only one product that competes for price against the likes of Brazil and India, has caused the Herbert River District to slowly decline. Businesses are closing, and young people have left the district because of lack of employment opportunities. Ingham has the worst aging population problem in the State and something needed to change.
"The construction and ultimate expansion of the NQBE facility will turn things around in this district. It will create 250 fulltime jobs, generate $96 million annually in regional output, and put in the vicinity of $10 million per annum into the pockets of NQBE farmers.
"This approval is a huge win for NQBE (shareholders, consultants and staff) and is also an enormous boost for the local economy. I believe that this is a stepping stone for Ingham for the future."
Mr Carey said that there would certainly be a celebration of the moment, however, acknowledged that there was still a lot of hard work to be done before the project became a reality.
"We have got the approval - now we have to build the facility."
Robert Carey (NQBE Chairman) 47 765300
Doug Kingston (NQBE Project Implementation Manager) 0417 762 190