Newcastle has traditionally been known for its coal, shipping and heavy industry; not resource recovery and bioenergy.
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Cell 9 at Newcastle's Summerhill Waste Management Centre. Source: Newcastle City Council

But the Steel City's reinvention continues apace, with recent announcements surrounding the Summerhill Waste Management Centre indicative of a renaissance for NSW's second-largest city.

Plans for a solar farm at Summerhill, alongside the opening of a ninth landfill cell, have demonstrated Newcastle City Council's commitment to future-proofing Newcastle. As with the others already in operation at the centre, Cell 9 is designed to minimise environmental impacts and provide long-term for a resilient city.

With a capacity of three million cubic metres, Cell 9 will handle 600-700 tonnes of landfill a day (although as much as 22,000 tonnes a year - more than a month's worth - is separated and recycled on-site). An anti-leaching membrane, sediment basins and drainage berms provide best-practice environmental controls.

The waste management centre has enough airspace to handle Newcastle's needs for another 700 years. But at Summerhill, built over a former colliery, landfill is far from the only option available.

Darren North, waste manager at Newcastle City Council, said: "Landfill is only one of a suite of tools Council uses to manage waste, which also includes waste avoidance, re-use and recycling. We divert as much waste away from landfill as possible, because so much of what we throw away can be re-used, recycled or repurposed.

"Staff recover metals, garden, building and electronic waste, mattresses, paper and cardboard, and plastics for recycling.

"Last year we sent more 21,800 tonnes of materials for recycling. This is on top of 15,500 tonnes of kerbside yellow bin recycling and 27,000 tonnes of re-used soil."

The proposed solar farm will operate in conjunction with the two methane gas generators already on-site, in addition to a small wind turbine, and may eventually lead to battery storage, electric garbage trucks, and other smart city initiatives.

The solar power generated will not only help the city achieve the 30% renewable energy target it set itself in a 2020 Carbon and Water Management Action Plan, it will also help alleviate a rapidly-growing energy bill, which has doubled annually each of the past two years. The proposed 16,000 photovoltaic solar arrays will generate 5MW, joining the 2.2MW from the methane generators that link to the grid at a nearby substation.

The Council is also engaged with several significant public transport, urban renewal and other infrastructure projects. Heavy rail no longer operates past Hamilton Station on the Hunter Valley line, with a light rail line in the CBD to replace it currently under construction. The NSW government's $650 million Revitalising Newcastle program also includes new public spaces along the old heavy rail line, with a separate Council project pushing smart poles with wifi and adjustable lighting.

The renewal initiatives haven't come without controversy, with opposition to the disruption and questions over the necessity of the light rail. Even Summerhill is not without contention - some locals have expressed complaints about the gate fee.

Yet, writing for the Newcastle Herald, North said: "The centre operates as a fully commercial section of Newcastle City Council and generates revenues… By incrementally and responsibly utilising Summerhill's great space, Council will continue to minimise waste disposal costs for rate payers while ramping up its green and economic value".