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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