Greenhouse gas restrictions denied, but new pollution limits imposed on Latrobe Valley power stations

Victoria’s three coal-fired power stations face tougher pollution controls but have escaped having limits placed on the amount of greenhouse gases they can emit after a review of their operating licences.

The Environment Protection Authority’s (EPA) review, which took three years to produce, has for the first time imposed limits on how much mercury and fine and coarse particulate matter the plants can release.

But it did not require the power stations to install fabric filters on their chimneys to reduce emissions — a key demand of health advocates and something the plant owners argued was impractical.

EPA executive director of regulatory standards Tim Eaton said the new requirements increased transparency by requiring the plants’ operators to publish more data about what they release into the atmosphere.

“So daily recording from each of the power stations on a website with a monthly wrap up in terms of the compliance and emissions out of the stacks,” Mr Eaton said.

The three plants are among Australia’s highest greenhouse gas producers and emit a range of chemicals including sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen, and particulate matter.

Long-term exposure to particulate matter is linked to reduced life expectancy, reduced lung function, and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

Environment Victoria said the failure to introduce greenhouse gas limits for the power stations made “a mockery of the Andrews governments’ efforts over the last five years to modernise the EPA”.

“For the EPA to be missing in action on climate change to the biggest environmental challenge in the 21st century .… is really disappointing,” Environment Victoria campaigns director Nick Aberle said.

The pollution limits imposed on the plants were also above what they currently produce and would make little difference, he said.

“It still means they’re going to be polluting at the same levels as they always were. We’re just going to know more about it because we’ve got better monitoring,” Dr Aberle said.

Energy Australia, which owns Victoria’s oldest power station Yallourn, welcomed the outcome of the licence review.

“In 2021 we plan to make significant investments to increase our continuous emissions monitoring capability to collect more emission data in real-time,” a company spokesperson said.

“We will also introduce new systems to report our data and publish this on our public website.

“Investments in maintenance and capital improvements over the last two decades have helped improve Yallourn’s efficiency and lower emissions.

“These improvements are equivalent to leaving one million tonnes of coal in the ground each year.”

Loy Yang A owner AGL said it had worked closely with the regulator on the review and it was taking steps to implement the revised licensing conditions.

Latrobe Valley health advocate Wendy Farmer, whose group Voices of the Valley was set up in the aftermath of the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire, said the EPA’s review contained good and bad elements.

“There’s a lot more consideration for health in this review including monitoring of PM 2.5 and [PM] 10 [particulate matter],” Ms Farmer said.

She said while increased monitoring of power station emissions was welcome, the pollution restrictions were not strict enough.

But she welcomed the fact the power station operators are now required to have rehabilitation plans for the ash dams in their mines which can contaminate groundwater if they leach.

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Latrobe Valley community asks if electric vehicle factory will ever be built

Community members in Latrobe Valley want clarity about whether an electric vehicle factory will go ahead, more than two years after it was announced ahead of the 2018 Victorian state election.

Premier Daniel Andrews announced a deal with the company SEA Electric, to create 500 jobs building electric vans, during a visit to the region on the eve of the election campaign.

The project was the centrepiece of the government’s response to the closure of the Hazelwood power station and its attempt to recover the marginal seat of Morwell.

But more than two years later, a site has not been secured and the company said it needed to modify the agreement for the project to go ahead.

The government said its support “is contingent on the company meeting milestones set out in the agreement,” and has not paid any money to the company since May 2019.

It would not reveal how much has been paid, saying the matter is commercial in confidence.

Independent Morwell MP Russell Northe said he believed the factory would never come to fruition and the government needed to be clear about its future.

“If it’s not going ahead, at least come forward — tell the community the reasons why it’s not going ahead and look at other options for the Latrobe Valley community,” Mr Northe said.

Since the deal was announced, SEA Electric has shifted its focus to international markets and the company’s chief executive Tony Fairweather is now based in the United States.

He said the company would like to proceed with the Latrobe Valley factory, provided the focus could shift away from producing vans towards electric buses and battery packaging.

Last year, Parliament’s Public Accounts and Estimates Committee heard the factory had been delayed after a dispute with Westpac bank regarding a $7 million trade finance facility that needed to be repaid and closed.

Mr Fairweather said there was ample finance for electric vehicles available in the US and the issues with Westpac “pretty much sums up the challenges associated with [electric vehicles in] Australia at the moment”.

But he said despite the greater opportunities abroad, he still wanted to develop the business in Australia and “deliver on” the commitment to build a factory in the Latrobe Valley.

“So if the state has the ability to vary our terms in the agreement to look at the different structuring of what we’re doing down there … then we’re open to that,” Mr Fairweather said.

He said if that was not possible, the company could explore other opportunities in Australia.

Victorian Regional Development Minister Mary-Anne Thomas declined a request for an interview, but a spokesperson issued a statement which said the Government had supported SEA Electric “and its promise to deliver jobs for Victoria and the Latrobe Valley in particular”.

“While we are disappointed that the company has not yet been able to meet its commitment, our support for their project is contingent on the company meeting milestones set out in the agreement. As such, no Victorian Government financial support has been provided since May 2019,” the spokesperson said.

“Future milestone payments to SEA Electric are conditional on the company hiring additional workers from the Latrobe Valley; finalising a site, and entering into a contract for the construction of the new facility.

The spokesperson declined to say whether the government would renegotiate its agreement with SEA Electric as “the terms of the arrangements between SEA Electric and the Victorian Government are commercial in confidence”.

Ms Thomas last month revealed the Government was providing funding for four SEA Electric employees who live in the Latrobe Valley to travel to the company’s Dandenong factory as part of the agreement, in response to questions from the Opposition.

Behind closed doors in September 2019, the Latrobe City Council considered a request from SEA Electric to become the lead tenant at the council’s planned Gippsland Logistics Precinct in Morwell.

Latrobe City mayor Sharon Gibson said the council hoped the project would “kick start” the logistics precinct, leading to more jobs and hoped the Government and the company would “work through” any issues.

“Council has worked really hard with the company. The company have not come back to us with any issues [about the site agreement],” Cr Gibson said.

Wendy Farmer, from community group Voices of the Valley, said the community wanted certainty on whether the project would go ahead.

“If it’s a dead deal, let us know it’s a dead deal. If we can work with the company and work with government to make it happen, let’s make it happen,” Ms Farmer said.

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Victoria wave through ‘very dangerous’ Chinese-owned lead smelter in Latrobe Valley

Victoria wave through ‘very dangerous’ Chinese-owned lead smelter in Latrobe Valley

The Andrews government in Victoria has approved a Chinese state-owned lead smelter in the Latrobe Valley only a kilometre away from a primary school without an environmental effects statement.

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Water shortages, pollution mean Latrobe Valley mine lakes plan not viable, environment groups say

Environmental groups say newly released documents which raise concerns about water availability and groundwater pollution cast fresh doubt over a plan to turn Victoria’s three brown coal mines into lakes when they close.

A Victorian Government ecological effects statement has revealed using water from the Latrobe River system to fill the mines would exacerbate a decline in environmental values and loss of biodiversity in a future drying climate.

The Latrobe River runs through the Latrobe Valley and central Gippsland and is used for drinking water, irrigating farmland and flows into the Ramsar-listed Gippsland Lakes wetlands.

Ramsar wetlands are rare or unique and of international importance.

The ecological effects statement found decreasing water availability from filling the mines would have a range of impacts on the river, its estuary and the Gippsland Lakes.

These include the loss of vegetation and a decrease in the numbers and breeding of native fish, waterbirds, frogs and turtles.

The Hazelwood open cut coal mine in the Latrobe Valley which closed at the end of March 2017.(ABC Gippsland: Jarrod Whittaker)

The study builds on the Government’s mine rehabilitation strategy released earlier this year, which found if drying continued the river’s inflows would be half their historic average when the last mine, at the Loy Yang power station, was due to close in 2048.

Look at other options

Environment Victoria campaigns manager Nick Aberle said the Government’s reports showed there was not enough of the Latrobe River system to fill “three mines or potentially even any mines” with river water.

A man stands in front of a waterway.
Environment Victoria’s Nick Aberle says alternatives to filling the mines with water need to be investigated.(Supplied: Nick Aberle)

“If you were to take that water out of the Latrobe river system, it is going to have a major environmental impact on the river system all the way down to the to the Gippsland Lakes,” Dr Aberle said.

Filling the mines with river water would take decades, with the Hazelwood mine, which closed in 2017, requiring 638 gigalitres.

The Yallourn mine, due to close in 2032, would need 725 and Loy Yang, which is scheduled to shut down in 2048, has a capacity of 1,420GL.

Average in-flows into the Latrobe have fallen from 800GL a year to 600GL a year since 1997 .

Government modelling in the rehabilitation strategy found under a dry climate scenario, the river’s average in-flows could drop to 334 gigalitres a year by 2080.

He said it was time for the mines’ owners to begin considering rehabilitation options which did not involve water or to investigate alternate sources of water.

“What those alternative water sources probably include are things like the desalination plant, recycled water from treatment plants and using that water to put that in the mine if a non-water solution isn’t going to work,” Dr Aberle said.

Owners told to clean up

Documents released to environmental groups under Freedom of Information and obtained by the ABC show in October, the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) issued the Hazelwood’s owner, Engie, with clean-up notices.

The notices were issued after groundwater contamination was found inside the mine at the Hazelwood Ash Retention Area (HARA) and at its eastern overburden dump.

Groundwater bores at both sites at the mine found leaching from Hazelwood’s ash waste, with the notices saying the water tested exceeded the guidelines for “Water Dependent Ecosystems, Water Based Recreation, Potable Water Supply, Agriculture and Irrigation (stock watering) and Agriculture and Irrigation (irrigation)”.

The EPA found increased levels of cobalt, iron, manganese, nickel, sodium and magnesium detected may have occurred because of leaching from the HARA.

The notices reveal the EPA became aware in 2005 that the HARA was not adequately constructed and had the potential “to result in contamination of underlying groundwater”.

In a statement, the EPA said it was addressing pollution issues with the Hazelwood mine and ash landfills and the “EPA has issued regulatory notices which will guide clean up and ongoing management of the site”.

Mine audit underway

The EPA clean-up notice says the risk to a future lake at Hazelwood is beyond the scope of its audit, but it requires Engie to assess the extent of any contamination within and beyond the mine site and to analyse any potential risks to future uses of the area.

An Engie spokesperson said the audit was underway and would be completed next year.

“It is common for a site-wide clean-up notice to be issued by EPA Victoria upon the closure of a large industrial site such as Hazelwood,” the spokesperson said.

He said the company remained committed to filling the mine and making sure there was no risk to the environment or the community.

Environmental groups concerned

But environmental groups say the contents of the EPA’s clean-up notice are “disturbing” and raise questions about the Hazelwood lake plan.

A group of environmentalists stand next to a river holding glasses of water
The Friends of Latrobe Water coalition of environmental groups is opposed to filling the mines with river water.(Supplied: Friends of Latrobe Water)

“[The HARA] sits actually in the middle of the area that they want to flood. So it’s 35 hectares,” said Tracey Anton, a member of Gippsland group Friends of Latrobe Water.

Dr Aberle said while he believed a mine lake was not viable, Engie needed to clean up the area to avoid creating a “toxic lake”.

“The water quality in any lake would be quite problematic just because of that coal ash,” he said.

“So really, the first step before Hazelwood starts putting any water anywhere would need to be to clean up that coal ash dump at the bottom of the pit.”

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Latrobe Valley mine ‘pit lakes’ risk river health in drying climate: reports

They find that reducing water to the river system will mean a loss to the environmental and Aboriginal cultural values of the river, its estuary and the Ramsar-listed Gippsland Lakes.

“Continued water resource use under a future drier climate will lead to the decline in environmental values of the Latrobe system and a loss of biodiversity,” an ecological assessment says.

An artist’s impression of Hazelwood coal mine as a pit lake.

Even under a “median” climate scenario, by the early 2040s the additional water used for mine rehabilitation will exceed average water availability. Yet some of the mines will take decades to fill.

These findings raise serious questions about government-approved plans to divert enormous amounts of water from the river system towards mine rehabilitation in the Latrobe Valley.

When coal power stations close, power station operators have a legal responsibility to rehabilitate mine sites. Hazelwood closed in 2017, while Loy Yang and Yallourn are set to close in the coming decades.

Environment Victoria campaigns manager Nick Aberle said the government and operators should rule out using water from the river system.

The eight chimneys on the former Hazelwood Power Station are demolished with explosives in May 2020.

The eight chimneys on the former Hazelwood Power Station are demolished with explosives in May 2020. Credit:Joe Armao

“It’s staggering that the mine operators are still putting forward proposals to fill the pits with water,” Mr Aberle said. While mining companies didn’t have current climate predictions when they made their original plans, that information was now available, he said.

If river water cannot be used, mine rehabilitation will become considerably more expensive because operators would have to buy recycled or desalination water, or undertake earthworks deeper into the pits. This could cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Frankie Mills, a dairy farmer and irrigator with a family farm at Kilmany, in Gippsland, said about three-quarters of his water allocation came from the Latrobe River system. “If they are going to take extra river flow away, it might mean I don’t have enough water,” Mr Mills said.

During the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry the two options identified for all Latrobe Valley mine pits involved filling or partly filling the voids with water.

Filling the Hazlewood pit alone will require 638 gigalitres, and take between 15 to 20 years without interruption. In comparison, Sydney Harbour holds approximately 500 gigalitres of water.

A third document released to Environment Victoria under freedom of information laws shows the Environment Protection Authority issued Hazelwood owner Engie with a clean-up notice in October. This notice reveals a coal ash dam on the floor of Hazelwood mine pit has been known to be polluting groundwater since 2005.

A spokesman for Engie said its plan to fill the mine void had been informed by more than 100 independent technical studies and was universally understood as the best way to manage fire risk and long-term ground instability in brown coal mines.

The company’s proposed access to future water would not impact on other users and would take account of environmental concerns and drought conditions, he said.

“Engie Hazelwood remains very focused on commencing the mine void fill so that our continued investment in the rehabilitation program can proceed,” the spokesman said.

There are international examples of mines being rehabilitated into pit lakes, particularly the former industrial Lausitz region of Germany. This region has higher rainfall than Victoria and they have faced challenges, including the slow filling rate and environmental contamination.

The state government said the region’s environment and rights of existing users would be fully protected during any process for mine rehabilitation.

“Earlier this year we established the Mine Land Rehabilitation Authority to work with the local community and ensure experts are providing independent advice in how the projects are managed over the coming decades,” a spokesperson said.

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Flood Warning – Latrobe River


Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology, Victoria

Minor Flood Warning for the Latrobe River

Issued at 10:16 am EST on Wednesday 26 August 2020

Flood Warning Number: 5


In the 24 hours to 9am Wednesday, no significant rain was recorded in the Latrobe River catchment. No significant rain is forecast for the remainder of Wednesday.

Latrobe River Yallourn to Traralgon Creek:

No further flooding is expected along the Latrobe River Yallourn to Traralgon Creek.

The Latrobe River at Thoms Bridge is currently at 3.60 metres (minor flood level 4.00 m) and falling.

Latrobe River downstream of Traralgon:

Minor flooding is occurring along the Latrobe River downstream of Traralgon.

The Latrobe River at Rosedale (Main Stream) is currently at 4.07 metres and rising slowly. The Latrobe River at Rosedale (Main Stream) is expected to remain above the minor flood level (4.00 m) during Wednesday. The river level is likely to peak near 4.30 metres during Wednesday and into Thursday.

Flood Safety Advice:

SES advises that all community members should:

  • Never walk, ride or drive through floodwater,
  • Never allow children to play in floodwater,
  • Stay away from waterways and stormwater drains during and after heavy rain,
  • Keep well clear of fallen power lines
  • Be aware that in fire affected areas, rainfall run-off into waterways may contain debris such as ash, soil, trees and rocks, and heavy rainfall increases the potential for landslides and debris across roads.

Contact Information

Current Emergency Information is available at

For emergency assistance contact the SES on 132 500.

Current Road and Traffic Information is available at the VicRoads website:

Next Issue:

The next warning will be issued by 10:30 am EST on Thursday 27 August 2020.

Latest River Heights:

LocationHeight of River (m)TendencyDate/Time of Observation
Latrobe River at Noojee1.34Steady08:00 AM WED 26/08/20
Latrobe River at Willow Grove2.24Steady08:00 AM WED 26/08/20
Tanjil River at Tanjil Junction1.26Steady09:00 AM WED 26/08/20
Tanjil River at Tanjil South1.77Steady09:00 AM WED 26/08/20
Moe River at Darnum1.93Steady09:00 AM WED 26/08/20
Moe Drain at Trafalgar East2.16Steady09:00 AM WED 26/08/20
Narracan Creek at Thorpdale0.74Steady09:38 AM WED 26/08/20
Narracan Creek at Moe0.73Steady07:44 AM WED 26/08/20
Morwell River at Boolarra0.76Steady09:00 AM WED 26/08/20
Latrobe River at Thoms Bridge3.60Falling09:00 AM WED 26/08/20
Latrobe River at Rosedale (Main Stream)4.07Rising09:06 AM WED 26/08/20
Latrobe River at Kilmany4.98Steady09:00 AM WED 26/08/20

This advice is also available by dialling 1300 659 210. Warning, rainfall and river information are available at The latest weather forecast is available at

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Turning Latrobe Valley coal mines into lakes may not be viable, report says

A Victorian Government report has cast doubt on whether it will be possible to turn all three Latrobe Valley open cut coal mines into lakes when they close.

Since October last year the Government has been considering a proposal to use water from the Latrobe River system to fill the mines and turn them into lakes.

The proposal attracted criticism from Central Gippsland farmers who use the river for irrigation, as well as environmentalists who fear drawing large amounts of water from the river could damage the environment.

The report, released on Friday, echoed their concerns about the availability of water from the Latrobe.

The river’s flows have dried by 25 per cent since 1997, falling from 800 gigalitres to 600GL.

A group of environmentalists stand next to a river holding glasses of water
The Friends of Latrobe Water coalition of environmental groups is opposed to filling the Latrobe Valley coal mines with river water.(Supplied: Friends of Latrobe Water)

Water source drying up

The report found if the drying continues, river’s inflows would be “half of their historic average” by the time Loy Yang mine closes in 2048.

It said mine operators should plan for a drying climate, and that any water used for rehabilitation should not “negatively impact” traditional owners, the environment or the rights of other water users.

The Hazelwood mine closed in 2017, while the Yallourn mine is due to close in 2032.

Collectively, 2781GL would be needed to turn the three mines into lakes, with each mine taking 15-30 years to fill.

Engie, which owns Hazelwood, has submitted its rehabilitation plans to the Government and plans to start filling it with water next year.

A graph showing how drying conditions are going to affect water availability in the Latrobe River system.
A graph showing how drying conditions are going to affect water availability in the Latrobe River system.(Supplied: Victorian Government)

Lakes ‘not the only option’

Victorian Resources Minister Jaclyn Symes said it was going to be “very, very difficult” to turn the three mines into full lakes.

“That’s why it’s important to make sure that we’re looking at alternative forms of rehabilitation, making sure that we are looking at alternative sources of water,” she said.

“How much water the three [mines] will use, whether two of them need water, one doesn’t, are all open for further consultation and development as we go along.”

The report found other water sources, including desalinated and recycled water, could be as cost effective as filling from the Latrobe River — but noted that could change in the future.

The Latrobe Valley power station operators already have water entitlements from the Latrobe River, and the report says that should be the maximum amount used for rehabilitation.

It also says the amount could be less if the climate continues drying.

“It is unlikely that water will be available for mine rehabilitation in most years,” the report stated.

Ms Symes said fencing the mines off and leaving them empty was not an option.

A male cattle farmer leans on a fence paling.
Angus Zilm irrigates says the Government’s report acknowledges farmers’ concerns about mine rehabilitation.(ABC Gippsland: Jarrod Whittaker)

Environment at forefront

Environment Victoria (EV) was pleased the report stated that the environment and other water users should not be disadvantaged by mine rehabilitation.

“This is a really important point because as we go into a drying climate, it’s going to be increasingly clear that there isn’t that much water going around in the Latrobe River system,” EV campaigns director Nick Aberle said.

Local environment coalition Friends of Latrobe Water said the report confirmed what was known previously — that using river water would not be sustainable.

Farmers group Latrobe Irrigators saw the closure of the Latrobe Valley power stations as an opportunity to expand irrigation in Central Gippsland.

The group’s spokesman, cattle farmer Angus Zilm, said the report was “exactly what we’d been asking for”.

“It clearly says that further exploration is required for alternate water solutions such as recycled water and desalinated water,” Mr Zilm said.

Mine owners set on lake plans

In a submission made while the report was being compiled, Yallourn’s owner, Energy Australia, advocated filling the mines at a quicker rate than proposed by the Government.

Energy Australia energy executive Liz Westcott said in the submission that a “[delayed] flooding of the Yallourn mine [would] force intolerable risks, costs and delays upon all the community, government and mine operators”.

Alinta Energy, which owns the Loy Yang B plant, said in its submission that the mine operators should be able to access additional water through the open market.

It also said the Government’s final approach would have “consequences for current operators as they assess the viability on continuing operations”.

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