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Legal cloud hangs over Vales Point power station sale

The sale of Vales Point coal power station [1] should trigger the NSW EPA to finally bring the plant into compliance with Clean Air Regulation. [2] 

“Vales Point power station is a major source of nitrogen oxides and has been granted an exemption to the clean air laws for over a decade,” Nature Conservation Council CEO Jacqui Mumford said. “The new owners should be required to slash the station's pollution so that people across NSW can breathe healthier air.” 

The NSW EPA renewed the air pollution exemption in December 2021, but it has emerged that the new exemption is invalid because Delta submitted its application after the deadline.  The EPA revealed in Budget Estimates this month it was reviewing the situation and would decide what to do regarding the exemption by the end of September. [3] 

Concerns about the legality of the renewal of Delta’s licence conditions were first identified by Environmental Justice Australia (EJA), which has been acting for NCC in raising those concerns with the EPA. 

“Right now, there are serious concerns that Delta has unlawful licence conditions, which let it pollute the air at dangerously high nitrogen oxides levels. Additionally, Delta’s operations are also being scrutinised following two major fish kills in Lake Macquarie,” EJA solicitor Jocelyn Garity. Ms McGarity said.   

“If Vales Point power station is allowed to operate beyond 2029, we know it will have continued serious consequences for the health of the community. It’s also unknown how the sale will impact the rehabilitation responsibilities for the power station ash dumps.  

“Delta has previously acknowledged rehabilitation requirements will depend in part on how much ash recycling occurs. Sev.en needs to be clear about its plans for ash recycling and outline its long-term commitment to remediation for the community.” 

Ms Mumford said: "The power station doesn’t currently have a valid air pollution licence. It’s like selling an unregistered car. The EPA has the chance to take a good look at this before issuing the new owners with a licence to pollute. 

“The sale is also unacceptable from a climate point of view. Vales Point and all other coal fired power station in NSW must shut by 2030 to meet Paris emissions targets. But there have been alarming reports over the past few days that the new owner plans to extend the station’s life by possibly 20 years. That must not happen. 

“When Liddell power station closes in April, Vales Point will become the oldest station in NSW.  The new owner should set a closure date this decade to provide certainty to the energy market. 

“Keeping these unreliable polluting power stations running is bad for our health, for the climate, and for energy reliability. This power station should be shut down, not sold to a Czech billionaire to keep running it at the expense of our climate and health.”  

REFERENCES  

[1] Media release: Sale of Delta Gropup, Delta Energy, 16-9-22 

[2] Vales Point is now allowed to emit NOx at up to 980 mg/m3, above the limit in the clean air regulation of 800 mg/m3 for a plant of this age. See Schedule 3 of the Protection of the Environment Operations (Clean Air) Regulation 2010 

[3] Budget Estimates transcript, pp 57-58 

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