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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

 


Historic energy superpower plan passes parliament

The Nature Conservation Council welcomes the passage of the Electricity Infrastructure Investment Bill through NSW Parliament this afternoon with cross-party support after a marathon 32-hour sitting of the upper house.

The bill will ensure about 60 wind and solar farms are built over the next 10 years, creating 9,000 jobs and stimulating $32 billion in private investment. These projects will prevent the emission of 90 million tonnes of climate pollution.

“The passage of this bill shows that all sides of politics agree we must get on with building the clean-energy future our state needs,” NCC Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.

“This law is proof that NSW can act on climate change at the same time as creating jobs and reducing power bills.”

The NSW Electricity Infrastructure Investment Bill will accelerate the construction of transmission lines to regional NSW and support the development of new solar, wind and pumped-hydro projects.

“Everyone in NSW has skin in this game,” Mr Gambian said. “Last bushfire season showed we are now on the front line of climate change impacts, and scientists have warned that if we don’t immediately cut climate pollution, fire seasons will get much worse.

“This law will see about 60 new solar and wind farms constructed across the state, more than quadrupling clean-energy generation.”

The Liberal Party, ALP, the Nationals, the Greens, Christian Democrats, Animal Justice Party and independent MPs supported the bill. Only Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers  Party opposed.

“Global heating is a massive global crisis,” Mr Gambian said. “This plan demonstrates that we can find pathways through this crisis that help modernise and strengthen our economy.”


NSW energy superpower plan is a bold and crucial step for climate, jobs and power prices.

The Nature Conservation Council welcomes today’s NSW Government Electricity Infrastructure Roadmap as a crucial step towards making NSW a low-carbon economy.

 “This plan is a step-change in ambition on clean energy,” said NCC Chief Executive Chris Gambian..

“It represents serious action on climate change in a way that will also create jobs and bring down power prices.

The NSW Electricity Infrastructure Roadmap announced today will accelerate the construction of transmission lines to regional NSW and support the development of new solar, wind and pumped-hydro projects. 

It will ensure about 60 wind and solar farms are built over the next 10 years, create 9,000 jobs,  stimulatE $32 billion in private investment, and prevent the emission of 90 million tonnes.

“Everyone in NSW has skin in this game,” Mr Gambian said. “Last bushfire season proved yet again we are on the front line of climate change impacts and scientists have warned that if we don’t immediately cut climate pollution fire seasons will get much worse.

“The plan will see about 60 new solar and wind farms start generating across the state, more than quadrupling clean energy generation.

“Global heating is a massive global crisis. This plan demonstrates that we can find pathways through this crisis that help modernise and strengthen our economy.

“While the Morrison government is absent on climate action, thank goodness their Coalition colleagues in NSW are willing to step up to the challenge of cutting climate pollution while growing the economy.”


Government must prepare coal communities for for energy transition

The International Energy Agency (IEA) overnight sounded the death knell for global coal demand and yet there is still no credible plan for diversifying regional economies of Lithgow and the Hunter. [1]

“The people of Lithgow and the Hunter region are being let down by political leaders who have failed to prepare for the inevitable changes facing their community,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said. 

“The International Energy Agency yesterday forecasted the steady decline in coal demand over the next 10 to 20 years. 

“It has warned coal-fired power will decline to less than 20 per cent of the world's energy by 2040, virtually spelling the end of the coal era.”

IEA chief Faith Birol said: Solar PV is now consistently cheaper than new coal- or gas-fired power plants in most countries, and solar projects now offer some of the lowest cost electricity ever seen. [2]

“There are huge opportunities beyond coal for the Hunter and Lithgow regions, but they will require investment by the government and business.

“These regions can’t reach its post-coal potential alone - it needs substantial support from the state and federal governments. That support is conspicuously lacking.

“Change in our energy systems is gathering pace so coal communities need government help to get on board or they will be left behind.

“Germany has created a 40 billion euro fund to help its coal communities develop new economic opportunities. 

“We need something similar to ensure our communities don’t suffer because of the rapid international shift away from coal.

“We call on the NSW government to set aside a substantial fund, with billions of dollars to ensure no worker is left high and dry and that coal mining regions will have sufficient resources to adapt economically.”

References

[1] International Energy Agency: coal has surrendered to solar, SMH, 14-10-20

[2] International Energy Agency Press Release, 13-10-20 


Media contact: James Tremain | 0419 272 254


Budget handouts for coal baron undermine climate goals

The Federal Government has included an undisclosed sum in the 2020-21 budget to help coal baron and Coalition donor Trevor St Baker maintain the Vales Point coal-fired power station. [1]

“Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s $213 billion dollar deficit this year pales in comparison to the climate debt he is leaving for future generations by backing coal and gas,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.

“The federal government has no business funding a privately-owned coal-fired power station.

“Bushfires and heatwaves are already becoming more deadly and subsidising an old coal-fired power station is just throwing fuel on the fire.”

Mr St Baker, the owner of Vales Point coal-fired power station on the Central Coast applied for taxpayer subsidies under the federal government’s Underwriting New Generation Investments Program. 

“The government should have a plan for the orderly closure of coal-fired power stations and their replacement with clean energy,” Mr Gambian said.  

“Subsidising coal power simply scares off investors in clean power sources like solar and wind backed-up with batteries.”

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. [2]  

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

REFERENCES

[1] Budget Paper 2, page 117,  2020-21 

[2] 23-1-19, Newcastle Herald, The man who bought Vales Point power station from the NSW Government for a song has new plans for the site 

 

 


Gas-giant Santos gets green light to desecrate the Pilliga forest

The Nature Conservation Council of NSW (NCC) says that the Independent Planning Commission’s (IPC) approval of Santos’ Narrabri gas project is a blow to nature in the state.

“Santos now has the green light to desecrate the Pilliga forest – turning it into an industrial gas field that will damage groundwater, carve up the forest and endanger koalas and other threatened species” said NCC Campaigns Director Dr Brad Smith.

“Never has a project in NSW seen such enormous public opposition at all levels – from the Gomeroi Traditional Custodians who fought to protect the enormous traditional significance of the Pilliga to the 404 people who appeared at a record 7 days of public hearings”

“The NSW Government has turned its back on traditional owners, farmers and local communities in North West NSW who are fighting to protect their water, land and livelihoods and stop this project wreaking havoc on our climate.

“Government and planning authorities must stop supporting gas projects that release millions of tonnes of potent climate pollution.”

“Existing coal and gas fields will push the world past globally agreed temperature goals. There is no room, or need, for more.”

“If the government wants to do something about gas, it should focus on electrification of Australian businesses and households with heat pumps for hot water, reverse-cycle air conditioning for space heating and induction cooktops.”

“Our economy can’t use dirty fuels any longer. Jobs and industries are already built on clean energy technology and NSW is getting left behind.” 

“We call on the government to commit to ensuring the IPC’s conditions aren’t swept under the rug, and Santos actually comes up with a salt management plan and a compliant groundwater model before construction commences.

 


Prime Minister Morrison abandons his own “technology neutral” principles to fuel fossil obsession

Responding to Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s plans to spend $50m on gas supply and plan a gas power station in the Hunter Valley, Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said

“The Prime Minister has thrown his own “technology neutral” energy policy out the window, and is locking Australia into burning expensive, polluting gas.”

“This is not a climate safe plan, and Australians will pay a very high cost if the government doesn’t wake up and start choosing clean options. 

“Locking in more gas will just heat the planet, making bushfires and heatwaves worse.”

“We call on the Prime Minister to consider clean options for back-up power supply, like grid scale batteries and pumped hydro”

“The time for building new fossil fuel power plants is long past.

“After the bushfire summer from hell that we just lived through, it is clear we cannot afford to delay.

“We urge all companies and governments to lift their level of ambition so Australia has 100% clean energy by 2030.”

 


AGL battery plan is a powerful symbol but more ambition is required

The Nature Conservation Council welcomes AGL’s plans to significantly expand its investment in grid-scale storage. [1]

“The symbolism of converting Liddell coal-fired power station site into a major battery for clean energy storage could hardly be more powerful,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.

“AGL clearly sees the end of coal as inevitable. The only question now is the speed of the transition.

“AGL has also put what should be the final nail in the coffin for the expensive, dirty and unnecessary Narrabri coal seam gas project.

“The science tells us that NSW and Australia have to end coal-fired power generation by 2030 to be on track to meet the Paris targets.

“If the government and business stick to their current plans, they will miss that deadline by 20 years.

“After the bushfire summer from hell that we just lived through, it is clear we cannot afford to delay.

“We applaud AGL’s announcement today, but we urge all companies and governments to lift their level of ambition so Australia has 100% clean energy by 2030.”

References

[1] AGL gets on with the business of transition with integrated battery system plan, AGL, 14-8-2020


Developing New England Renewable Energy Zone will be a giant leap but timing is critical

Opening a Renewable Energy Zone (REZ) in New England is welcome but the timing of its development is critical to ensure NSW transitions from coal to renewables faster than is currently planned. [1] 

The NSW Government has announced it will spend $79 million on planning to enable the $12.7 billion of potential investment in the New England Renewable Energy Zone to flows, but no timeline has been given.

The announcement says the delivery timetable to be developed during the detailed planning process.

Earlier this year, the state and federal government agreed to spend $2 billion underwriting new transmission lines linking new renewable projects to the national grid.

"Minister Kean is doing an admirable job of pulling the government in the right direction and increasing the pace of the transition from coal to clean energy, but there is still a question mark over whether that transition is happening fast enough,” Nature Conservation Council Acting Chief Executive Jacqui Mumford said.

"NSW has to end coal and gas power production by 2030 to play its part in limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees and yet the state still burns coal for more than three-quarters of its electricity. 

"Under current arrangements, coal power will be phased out in NSW around 2050, which is far too late. 

“The good news is that NSW has abundant wind and solar energy resources and the potential to be a clean energy superpower both domestically and internationally.

“The North-West Renewable Energy Zone will generate clean-energy jobs and economic activity that are badly needed after the bushfires, drought and covid.

“Now is not the time for opening up gas fields in Narrabri, when clean energy is ready to go.”

REFERENCES

[1] New renewable energy zone to almost match NSW's coal-fired capacity, SMH, 10-7-20