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Coal power stations still emitting dangerous levels of air pollution

New National Pollutant Inventory data show toxic air emissions from the state’s coal-fired power stations fell 15% in the year to June 2020, but they are still among the most polluting industrial facilities in NSW. [1] 

During the 2020 financial year, coal-fired power stations at Lithgow, on the Central Coast and in the Hunter Valley spewed out more than 268,000 tonnes of toxic air pollution including: 

  • 102,000 tonnes of nitrogen oxides; 
  • 153,000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide; 
  • 1,312 tonnes of coarse particles (PM10); and   
  • 358 tonnes of fine particles (PM2.5). 

Coal-fired power stations are still among the most polluting industrial facilities in NSW,” Nature  
Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said. 

“All these pollutants have a huge impact on people’s health so these facilities must clean up their operations and shut as soon as possible. 

“The 15% reduction in emissions is very welcome, these facilities are still major source of dangerous airborne toxins, including oxides of nitrogen and sulphur and fine particleswhich all cause serious respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. 

On the Central Coast alone, pollution from coal-fired power stations causes asthma in 650 children. 

“The total health impact of this industry on families is colossal, especially in the Hunter, on the Central Coast and across western Sydney where many of these emissions end up. 

NSW Power Station Emissions, 2019-20 (tonnes) 

 

NOx     

SOx     

Particles 10um     

Particles 2.5um     

Total    

Bayswater     

28,421     

35,795     

377    

82    

64,675    

Liddell     

24,348     

37,243     

410    

108    

62,109    

Eraring     

20,077     

39,000     

330    

103    

59,510    

Vales     

18,000     

20,000     

86    

31    

38,117    

Mt Piper     

11,033     

20,900     

109    

34    

32,076    

TOTAL     

101,879     

152,938     

1,312    

358     

256,488    

Climate pollution from NSW coal power stations fell by 4.1 million tonnes of COin the reporting period, equivalent to replacing 1.3 million petrol cars with electric vehicles, about a third of the NSW passenger vehicle fleet.  

References 


EPA agrees to consult Central Coast residents on Vales Point asthma pollution levels

The NSW Environment Protection Authority has agreed to public consultation before determining whether to let Vales Point power station keep emitting high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) for another five years.

Under pressure from Central Coast families, local community group Future Sooner and the Nature Conservation Council, the EPA agreed that members of the public and health and environment groups should have a say. 

“This is a great outcome for the Central Coast community, especially children with asthma who are at the front line in terms of health impacts,” NCC Chief Executive Chris Gambian said. 

“We are very keen to engage constructively and help residents participate in the consultation process so they get the results they deserve.” 

EPA Chief Executive Officer Tracy Mackey has written to NCC conceding “there is benefit in seeking public submissions on the proposal”, even if it is not legally required. 

“For 10 years, the EPA has exempted Vales Point from the Clean Air Regulation, allowing it to emit NO2 at twice the rate of other facilities,” Mr Gambian said. 

“The company has applied for another five-year exemption but the community has had enough. 

“People want Vales Point to clean up its act so their kids can breathe easy.”

 In January 2021, Newcastle epidemiologist Dr Ben Ewald found that about 650 kids on the Central Coast had asthma because of NO2 emissions from coal-fired power stations.  [1]

NCC, Future Sooner and local residents want the EPA to reject Vales’ application.

“Vales could instal NO2 burners for $33 million and operate them for $2.5 million a year, which is peanuts for a company that last year made $141 million profit before tax,” Mr Gambian said. [2] [3]

“Local residents should not be forced to pay for coal-fired power with health, especially when the owners of Vales can clearly afford to make their facility safe for kids.”

REFERENCES 

[1] Power station NO2 emissions and paediatric asthma in Central Coast, Hunter Valley and Sydney Local Government Areas, briefing note by Dr Ben Ewald, January 2021

[2] Jacobs report, GIPA EPA431, table ES-2, page 10

[3] Vales Point power station’s billionaire beggars receive $62 million dividend for FY2019-20, NCC media release, 1-12-20  


Mount Pleasant expansion is dirty and dangerous and should be rejected

The NSW Planning Department must reject the application to double production of the Mount Pleasant open-cut coal mine near Muswellbrook because it will have unacceptable health and climate impacts. [1] 

“With three mines basically on the edge of town, people who live in Muswellbrook are already choking on coal dust and some of the worse air quality in Australia,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.  

“Dust from coal mining is the leading cause of very high rates of respiratory disease in the town.

Air quality in Muswellbrook has breached the national standards for fine particles (PM2.5) every year since the standard was introduced. [2] 

“Muswellbrook locals need clean air, not more coal. This project will not only be bad for people’s health, it will be bad for the climate. 

“Coal is stoking the fires of climate change, which is a threat to our way of life, to our native plants and animals, and to our economy. 

“We need to be planning for the future, not living in the past. We should be investing in our clean, renewable energy future, not opening or expanding coals mines. 

“The bushfire season last year that wiped out a third of our koalas and killed possibly billions of native animals was made more extreme by climate change. 

“We cannot afford to stoke the fires of climate change any more.

The Hunter desperately needs a plan for the jobs and economic growth of the future.  

“Propping up the coal industry as the world moves away from coal is a betrayal of the next generation of Australians who need us to be planning for their prosperity now. 

“We know all too well that the mining industry will shut mines down when they don’t make money. What happens then? 

“The aggressively pro-coal agenda being pushed by the likes of Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon is shortsighted and dangerous.”  

Other mines close to Muswellbrook are Mt Arthur and Bengalla. 

References 

[1] Mount Pleasant Optimisation Project, NSW Planning Department   

[2] See for example NSW Annual Air Quality Statement 2018, pp17-18 

 


EPA must invite public submissions on Vales Point pollution standards

The Nature Conservation Council has asked the Environment Protection Authority to consult the public and health professionals before deciding whether to grant Vales Point power station a further five-year exemption from nitrogen oxide pollution limits in the NSW Clean Air Regulation. 

“We have written to the EPA recommending that it reject the application and to let health professionals and the people who live in the shadow of the Vales Point smoke stacks to be heard,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.

“The extremely high level of nitrogen dioxide pollution coming out of Vales Point power station is a serious public health issue.

“It is only right that the communities bearing the brunt of the health effects of this facility be given a chance to have a say about how it is regulated. 

“NO2 pollution from coal power stations causes asthma in 650 children on the Central Coast. [1] 

“These children would not have asthma if power stations in NSW, including Vales Point, met emissions standards that apply in other countries.

“Delta Electricity, which owns Vales Point, is massively profitable and could easily afford to install pollution controls that would significantly address the problem.

“Delta is a cabal of capitalists with one objective — to run their coal-fired power station with minimum pollution controls for as long as possible to maximise their profits, regardless of the human health and the environmental impacts.

“The EPA should be standing up for the people, not allowing big polluters harm the health of children on the Central Coast."    

Delta Electricity applied for the exemption from NO2 emissions standards in December. The EPA has 60 days to make its decision (February 21), or 90 days if it gives the public and health professionals a say (March 23).

References 

[1] Ewald, B, (January 2021), Power station NO2 emissions and paediatric asthma in Central Coast, Hunter Valley and Sydney Local Government Areas

 

MEDIA CONTACT: James Tremain | 0419 272 254


Coal power should not be above the law on clean air

Vales Point power station, one of the state’s biggest polluters, must not be granted another five-year exemption from the Clean Air Regulation, according to the Nature Conservation Council.

“Vales Point is a massively polluting business that makes mega profits for its billionaire owner because the NSW Government and the EPA keeps letting it off the hook,” Nature Conservation Council Acting CEO Jacqui Mumford said.

“This power station is not only fueling climate change, it is harming the health of hundreds of kids on the Central Coast. 

“Vales Point emits nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution at twice the rate of other coal power stations because it hasn’t invested in even the most basic equipment that can reduce this pollution.

“The free ride has to end.”

The owner of Vales Point,  Delta Electricity, applied to the EPA for another five year exemption from the state’s clean air laws on December 23. The EPA is now considering the application.

Vales Point’s current Environmental Protection Licence allows up to 1500 milligrams of nitrogen dioxide to be emitted per cubic metre of exhaust, while under the NSW Clean Air Regulation, polluting facilities of the same age must emit around half as much pollution, at 800 milligrams per cubic metre. [1]

Nitrogen dioxide from coal power stations causes respiratory diseases and is responsible for hundreds of kids in the local area developing asthma.

“Coal power stations should not be above the law when it comes to polluting our air,” Ms Mumford said. 

“It’s time Vales and all power stations in NSW stopped poisoning the air we breathe and protected the health of people who live around Lake Macquarie and the Central Coast.

“For 10 years, the Vales Point coal power station has been exempted from the Clean Air Regulation. Enough is enough. We call on the EPA to reject this latest application.

“Installing low-NOx burners would halve the nitrogen dioxide pollution that the plant releases into the community, at a cost which is just a fraction of its annual profit.

“The EPA has not yet committed to holding public consultations on this application, so if locals want to see cleaner air in their community, we encourage them to get in touch with the EPA to ask them to reject  this application.”

BACKGROUND 

  • The Federal Government has earmarked a $8.7 million subsidy for repairs to Vales Point power station, which is owned by coal baron Trevor St Baker. 
  • The power station is expected to close by 2029, but its owner has stated that it would run the plant as long as possible. ASIC filings show that last year the power station made a before tax profit of $141 million. [2]
  • An engineering report commissioned by the power station found that fitting low-NOx burners to reduce nitrogen dioxide emissions would cost about $33 million. [3]
  • Mr St Baker has a record of gaining from government decisions. He bought Vales Point power station from the NSW Government for $1 million in 2015 and made $113 million in profit on the deal in 2017-18. [4]  
  • Mr St Baker is a regular political donor, and former National Party candidate. 

REFERENCES

[1] Schedule 3, p83, Protection of the Environment (Clean Air) Regulation 2002

[2]  Vales Point power station’s billionaire beggars receive $62 million dividend,  1-12-20, NCC Media release

[3] Jacobs report, GIPA EPA431, table ES-2, page 10

 [4] The man who bought Vales Point power station from the NSW Government for a song has new plans for the site, 23-1-19, Newcastle Herald 

 


Vales Point power station’s billionaire beggars receive $62 million dividend

The Federal Government must withdraw its $8.7 million grant to Vales Point power station after revelations that owners Trevor St Baker and Brian Flannery took $62 million in dividends in FY2019-20.

Details of the superprofit are contained in Financial Statements and Reports posted with the Australian Securities & Investments Commission for Delta Electricity and subsidiary Sunset Power International. 

"Other coal power station owners have refurbished their turbines with their own money — only Trevor St Baker's company is seeking government handouts to refurbish its coal-fired power station,” Nature Conservation Council Campaigns Director Brad Smith said.

"Voters must be wondering why Angus Taylor is providing taxpayer handouts to wealthy coal barons like these.

"It's outrageous that Sunset Power International made a $141 million profit while seeking a taxpayer handout of $8.7 million to maintain their aging power station.

“This deal is not only bad for taxpayers, it is bad for the climate. 

“Every three months the turbine refurbishment adds to the life of the power station will cause one million additional tonnes of climate pollution.

"It's clear that this is a terrible waste of taxpayers’ money and Angus Taylor must not award this grant."

The financial statement reports the value of the Vales Point, which Mr St Baker bought from the NSW Government for a bargain $1 million, was written down by $113 million due to increased competition from solar and wind generation.

Mr St Baker last week reportedly threatened to sue the NSW Government for damages if it implemented its clean energy package. 

The package aims to increase renewable generation in NSW by 12 GW by 2030..

"It's now clear that Trevor St Baker's attempt to scupper the NSW Electricity Infrastructure Investment Roadmap was based on self-interest and against the interests of NSW consumers,” Nature Conservation Council Campaigns Director Brad Smith said.

Mr St Baker has made $198,050 in political donations over the past three years.

 

 

AUSTRALIAN FINANCIAL REVIEW

Power barons pocket $62m, slash Vales Point value

Elouise Fowler

Dec 1, 2020 – 12.01am

Power barons Trevor St Baker and Brian Flannery have slashed the value of the Vales Point power station by almost half despite posting a profit and pocketing a $62 million dividend from the NSW coal plant they bought for $1 million from the state government

Mr St Baker has also agreed to buy out Mr Flannery's 50 per cent share of the NSW coal power station near Lake Macquarie – which supplies about 4 per cent of power for the national grid.

The company – in which the duo are the only shareholders – slashed the value of the plant by 45 per cent to $221.7 million, down from $408.8 million last year, documents lodged by Sunset Power International with the corporate regulator showed.

The hefty write-down comes just five years after the duo paid the NSW government only $1 million for the facility on the state’s Central Coast in 2015.

The Sunset Power group blamed the pandemic-induced cut in demand for electricity and competition.

"Electricity prices and Vales Point production remained high in the first half of the financial year," Sunset Power said in its financial report.

"But reduced demand for electricity in the National Electricity Market as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with an increase in the supply of renewable electricity, has resulted in lower electricity prices and reduced production at Vales Point Power station.

"As a result of realised value during the financial year and the lower forward electricity market price curve for electricity, the fair value of Vales Point Power station has been lowered."

This comes as Mr St Baker criticised the landmark NSW renewable energy road map, which passed Parliament last Friday and aims to attract $32 billion of private investment in NSW infrastructure to build 12GW of renewable energy and 2GW of storage.

Cross-party support

The road map – backed by the Australian Energy Market Operator – drew the ire of the federal government and industry but won cross-party support in Parliament despite 30 hours of obstructions by One Nation's Mark Latham, who referenced Mr St Baker's criticism that it would devalue coal-fired power plants.

The Vales Point power station near Lake Macquarie is a bit more than half the size of the Loy Yang A brown coal-fired plant, Australia's largest, in Victoria's La Trobe Valley and about the same as the Yallourn Power Station.

The 1320-megawatt plant – the backdrop for the film clip of the Midnight Oil hit US Forces – posted a 28 per cent net profit increase to $134.7 million from $535.1 million revenue. In the previous year it earned $96 million profit from $598.9 million revenue.

An annual dividend of $62 million was paid, compared with $30 million in the previous year.

Sunset Power’s balance sheet is carrying $331 million in net ­assets, including $55 million in cash.

The Vales Point coal-fired power generator is controversially earmarked for $8.7 million funding in the federal budget to upgrade the power station.

Taxpayer funds

Nature Conservation Council Campaigns director Dr Brad Smith called for the federal government to abandon the grant, saying the company should not pocket taxpayer funds when it has posted a profit.

"It's outrageous that Delta electricity made a $141 million profit while seeking a handout from taxpayers of $8.7 million to maintain their ageing power station," Mr Smith said.

"Other coal power station owners have refurbished their turbines from their balance sheets. Only Trevor St Baker's company is seeking government handouts to refurbish its coal-fired power station.

"Every three months that the turbine refurbishment adds to the life of the power station will cause 1 million additional tonnes of climate pollution."

https://www.afr.com/companies/energy/power-barons-pocket-62m-slash-vales-point-value-20201130-p56j6o

 


Vales Point cops fine for pollution one week after getting $8.7m federal government grant

The company that owns Vales Point Power Station last week received a $8.7 million federal government handout has been busted illegally dumping asbestos and other waste. [1]

The NSW Environment Protection Authority has issued two penalty notices to Vales Point operator Delta Electricity with fines totalling $30,000.

“How can the federal government justify giving our hard-earned taxpayer dollars to a company that treats the environment and our laws with such disdain?” Nature Conservation Council Campaigns Director Dr Brad Smith said.

“This company has been busted dumping toxic asbestos into an ash dam and spreading it over a very large area. [2] 

“The penalty imposed is far too light for such a serious breach — $30,000 is chump change for a man who has made hundreds of millions from deals with the NSW Government.”

Dr Smith said the federal government had no business funding a privately-owned coal-fired power station, especially one that showed such disregard for the environment.

“We call on the NSW Government to block the transfer of the federal grant money to Mr St Baker,” he said.

“We urge the federal government instead to spend that money cleaning up the state’s energy system.”

Mr St Baker applied for taxpayer subsidies under the federal government’s Underwriting New Generation Investments Program and has a record of gaining from government decisions. 

He bought Vales Point power station from the NSW Government for $1 million in 2015 and made $113 million in profit on the deal in 2017-18. 

Mr St Baker is also a regular political donor and a former National Party electoral candidate.  

References

[1] Vales Point Power Station fined $30,000 for pollution and waste offences, NSW EPA, 12 October 2020

[2] Environmental watchdog orders clean-up but residents furious about being kept in the dark, Newcastle Herald, 3-1-2019