Tell the EPA: No more exemptions for Delta’s polluting Vales Point power station
Why make a submission?
- For the last decade, the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has granted an exemption to emissions standards to Delta Electricity’s Vales Point coal fired power station. These standards, set under the Protection of the Environment Operations (Clean Air) Regulation 2010 are the rules that determine how much pollution power stations and other polluting facilities can emit. The exemption granted to Vales Point power station mean it pollutes more nitrogen oxides (NOx) than it would otherwise be allowed to under NSW law.
- On 23 December 2020, Vales Point applied for another 5-year exemption. If granted, the power station will be able to keep emitting higher levels of NOx.
- The exemption application means that Vales Point seeks to be allowed to emit up approximately double the limit set out in the Clean Air Regulation for power stations of this age.
- NOx pollution contributes to numerous health problems, with particularly severe impacts on the respiratory system. Health impacts of NOx pollution particularly affect children, the elderly and people with chronic disease.
- Right now, the public has an opportunity a window of time in which to convince the EPA to reject the exemption application and require Vales Point to install NOx pollution controls to reduce the power station's impact on public health.
- Vales Point could install low NOx burners that would halve the amount of NOx it emits. This technology is already in use at the nearby Eraring coal power station.
- Due to public concern about this pollution exemption, the EPA has taken the unusual step of doing community consultation before deciding about Vales Point’s pollution limits.
- The consultation is open now and will close at 5pm on Wednesday the 10th November. They are accepting submissions via email or an online survey.
How to make a submission
To make your voice heard, you can email a submission to the EPA or complete their online survey. Consultation closes at 5pm on Wednesday the 10th November.
Write your submission
Include the following in your written submission:
- introduce that you are writing about Delta Electricity’s NOx pollution exemption application for Vales Point power station.
urge the EPA to:
- reject Delta Electricity’s pollution exemption application
- require Delta Electricity to install best practice pollution control technology.
- explain how Delta Electricity's application is inadequate (see points attached).
- explain that you expect the EPA to uphold its responsibility to protect public health (see points attached).
- explain why reducing air pollution from Vales Point power station matters to you/your organisation.
- finish your letter with your full name, address and organisation (if applicable).
Send your submission
- Send your submission letter in an email or as an attachment.
- In the subject line or email body include that you are writing with a submission. about Delta Electricity’s NOx pollution exemption application.
- Send to: [email protected]
Take the survey
1) Access the survey here: https://yoursay.epa.nsw.gov.au/vales-point-power-station-exemption-application
2) In your responses:
- Indicate you ‘strongly oppose’ Delta Electricity’s pollution exemption application.
- When asked for specific comments about Delta Electricity’s application, state that it is inadequate (see points attached).
- When asked what your expectations are regarding air quality controls, explain:
- that you expect the EPA to require Delta Electricity to install best practice pollution control technology
- that you expect the EPA to uphold its responsibility to protect public health (see points attached)
- why reducing air pollution from Vales Point power station matters to you/your organisation.
Key points to cover in your submission
Nitrogen Oxide pollution causes significant harm to human health
- NOx pollution contributes to numerous health problems, with particularly severe impacts on the respiratory system.[i]
- It is well established that NOx pollution, even in very low concentrations, causes asthma. [ii] Growing evidence also suggests that exposure to NOx pollution can contribute to heart disease and premature mortality. [iii]
- Health impacts of NOx pollution particularly affect children, the elderly and people with chronic disease.[iv]
- Health experts recommend strict standards on NOx emissions to protect the health of communities.[v]
- NOx pollution also forms secondary fine particulates, which cause heart attacks, strokes and premature death.
- Since the last exemption assessment in 2015 the US EPA has upgraded their assessment that chronic exposure to NOx causes respiratory disease.[iii]
- Since the last exemption assessment in 2015, the World Health Organisation drastically reduced its guidelines for NOx and fine particle pollution. The WHO annual guideline for NOx of 10 ug/m3 (4.87 ppb) is regularly breached at monitoring sites close to the Vales Point power station. The WHO annual guideline for PM2.5 of 5 ug/m3 is breached across the Sydney Greater Metropolitan Area, and coal power station NOx is a significant contributor to this pollution.
Vales Point Power Station is one of the state’s biggest polluters and its emissions cause significant harm to human health
- Vales Point contributes to the overall health burden from coal fired power stations in NSW. Research has shown that pollution from coal fired power stations leads to 477 deaths, 450 low-birthweight babies and 7,582 symptom days for children and young adults with asthma in NSW each year.[vi] This health cost to the NSW economy is estimated at over $1.4 billion each year.[vii]
- The highest concentrations of NOx air pollution from coal-fired power stations is in the air where the power station is located. This means that communities near the power station are exposed to the highest concentrations of Vales Point NOx air pollution. Vales Point is located at Mannering Park on the Central Coast. The power station is one of the most urban power stations in Australia and is surrounded by the highly populated areas of Lake Macquarie, Gosford and Newcastle.
- Research by Dr Ben Ewald, from the University of Newcastle, has found that 6% of asthmatic children in Lake Macquarie local government area (LGA) have asthma due to power station NOx pollution. In the Central Coast LGA, NOx pollution from power stations causes the disease in 5% of asthmatic children. This equates to 650 children with asthma in the local region who have asthma directly attributable to coal-fired power station NOx pollution.[viii]
- Eraring power station, located nearby, installed low NOx burners in 2012 and now emits NOx at approximately half the rate of Vales Point.
Air emissions standards for coal power stations in Australia are extremely lax compared to other countries
Power stations in NSW are licenced to emit toxic air pollution at concentrations far greater than power stations in other jurisdictions.
- Vales Point is allowed to pollute up to 1500 mg/m3 NOx. In the EU, for example, the limit (annual average) for existing power stations is just 150 mg/m3.[ix] Vales Point complies with its licence, but the licence limits are decades out of date.
- To comply with tighter NOx emissions limits, coal-fired power station operators in Europe, the United States, and Asia have retrofitted pollution controls to reduce NOx emissions by up to 90%.[x] These measures are standard practice internationally.[xi]
Technologies to reduce NOx pollution are available, feasible and practical.
There are two main technologies available to reduce NOx pollution, and Vales Point is fitted with neither:
- Low NOx burners (LNB): Retrofitting an existing plant with low NOx burners is the traditional starting point for NOx reduction and is usually the most cost effective, reducing NOx emissions by up to 50%.
- Selective catalytic reduction (SRC): More expensive and effective technology that reduces NOx emissions by up to 90%.
- The Vales Point Pollution Reduction Program Study found that installation of low NOx burners and/or SRC at Vales Point is technically feasible and could bring Vales Point NOx emissions below well below 500 mg/m3.[xii]
- Nearby Eraring power station, which has already installed low NOx burners, demonstrates that NOx emissions can be significantly and feasibly reduced, leaving no reason to extend the exemption for Vales Point.
Rejecting the exemption application would have significant health benefits
- Scientists from NSW health estimate that removing coal power station NOx emissions would result in 38,000 additional life-years for the people of Sydney.[xiii]
- Additionally, Newcastle epidemiologist Dr Ben Ewald estimates that 650 cases of childhood asthma are caused by coal power station NOx pollution in the Lake Macquarie and Central Coast region.
- While the power station only occasionally breaches the 800 mg/m3 NOx limit in the clean air regulation, moving to full compliance would require the power station to reduce its average emissions and health burden significantly.
- Engineering consultants commissioned by Delta Electricity identified a range of pollution control technologies that are technically feasible and would enable Delta to comply with the NOx limits in the Clean Air Regulation.[xiv]
- Low NOx burners would halve NOx emissions, and are the cheapest technology that would guarantee compliance with the Clean Air Regulation.
Delta Electricity’s application is inadequate as it fails to quantify health impacts
- Delta Electricity ignored a requirement from the EPA to assess the power station’s contribution to secondary particle pollution and ozone on the basis that the power station “does not have a discernible impact” on secondary PM2.5 and ozone.[xv] This is directly contradicted by all available independent research, including studies by NSW Health [xvi], International experts [xvii], and NSW Government scientists[xviii] which find that the five coal power stations in NSW are among the biggest contributors to PM2.5 pollution and that reducing NOx and SO2 emissions at power stations would cause significant improvement in the health of the people of the Sydney region.
- Delta Electricity also ignored a requirement from the EPA to assess the direct health benefits of technically feasible NOx pollution controls, such as low NOx burners and Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR). If it had completed this assessment it would have found significant benefits.
- Rather than assessing the benefits of installing technically feasible NOx pollution controls, Delta manipulated historical emissions data by selectively removing exceedances, and assessed the benefits of the manipulated emissions data. This assessment does not reflect any real-world engineering scenario, is misleading and false and should be rejected by the EPA.
Fitting air pollution controls would financially feasible, and a small, reasonable cost in the scheme electricity generation.
- Delta Electricity’s own assessment by Jacobs shows that NOx emissions could be halved by installing low-NOx burners for a total cost of approximately $88m including capital and operating costs.[xix]
- Best-available technologies such as Selective Catalytic Reduction are also technically feasible, resulting in a total NOx emission reduction of over 90%.
- For the year ending 30 June 2020, Vales Point power station turned a pre-tax profit of over $141 million.[xx]
- Delta Electricity could halve NOx emissions from Vales Point for a cost that is a fraction of its annual profit.
- Since the current owners of Vales Point purchased the power station for $1m, it has enjoyed seven years of exemptions to the NSW Clean Air Regulation. In that time the owners have extracted dividends into the hundreds of millions and increased the book value of the power station by hundreds of millions.
Granting a further 5 year exemption would breach the EPA’s a responsibility to protect public health
The EPA must consider the impact that approving the application will have on local and regional air quality and amenity, including the principles of ecologically sustainable development. In particular, the objectives of the EPA set out in the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 include [xxi]:
- protect, restore and enhance the quality of the environment in NSW; and
- to reduce the risks to human health and prevent the degradation of the environment.
To achieve the above objectives, the EPA is empowered by the same Act to:
- promote pollution prevention;
- set mandatory targets for environmental improvement; and
- promote community involvement in decisions about environmental matters.
- Should the EPA grant the application, it will have failed to fulfil its statutory objectives.
- Part 5 of the Clean Air Regulation (the relevant part of the Clean Air Regulation for Delta’s application) sets out a “ratchet mechanism” which provides for the phasing out of ageing activities or technologies to drive environmental improvements in industry.
- If Delta Electricity is given a third consecutive exemption, it cannot be said that the EPA is adequately using existing mechanisms to result in environmental improvements and pollution reduction.
i U.S. EPA. (2016), Basic Information About NO2. Available at: https://www.epa.gov/no2-pollution/basic-information-about-no2
ii Knibbs, Cortés de Waterman, Toelle, Guo, Denison, Jalaludin, Williams (2018), The Australian Child Health and Air Pollution Study (ACHAPS): A national population based cross-sectional study of long-term exposure to outdoor air pollution, asthma, and lung function. Environment International, 120, 394-403. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30125857/
iii U.S. EPA. (2016), Integrated Science Assessment (ISA) for Oxides of Nitrogen – Health Criteria. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC. Available at: https://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/isa/recordisplay.cfm?deid=310879
iv U.S. EPA. (2016), Basic Information About NO2. Available at: https://www.epa.gov/no2-pollution/basic-information-about-no2
v Clare Walter, Maxwell Smith et al. (2019), Health-based standards for Australian regulated thresholds of nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and ozone: Expert Position Statement 2019. Available at: https://www.envirojustice.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Expert-Position-Statement-PDF.pdf
vi Dr. Aidan Farrow, Andreas Anhäuser and Lauri Myllyvirta (2020), Lethal Power: How Burning Coal is Killing People In Australia. Available at: https://www.greenpeace.org.au/wp/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/GPAP-Lethal-Power-full-report.pdf.
vii Johnson, Chris et al. (2020), Costs of Negative Health Outcomes Arising from Air Pollution from Coal-fired Power stations, Actuaries Institute of Australia Annual Hackathon. Available at: https://www.envirojustice.org.au/australians-pay-a-deadly-2-4-billion-health-bill-for-coal-fired-power/
viii Ewald, B, (January 2021), Power station NO2 emissions and paediatric asthma in Central Coast, Hunter Valley and Sydney Local Government Areas
ix Note this is the annual average limit. Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2017/1442 of 31 July 2017 establishing best available techniques (BAT) conclusions, under Directive 2010/75/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council, for large combustion plants, table 3, page L 212/30. Available at: https://op.europa.eu/s/oIIl
x Jacobs Group (Australia) Pty Limited (2017), Vales Point Power Station Delta Electricity NOX Pollution Reduction Study (PRS), pp.43-44. Available at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1nEnWDuWZXDIZ5GtU8xDUIb-VZfxOH90I/view?usp=sharing
xi Jacobs Group (Australia) Pty Limited (2017), Vales Point Power Station Delta Electricity NOX Pollution Reduction Study (PRS), pp.43-44. Available at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1nEnWDuWZXDIZ5GtU8xDUIb-VZfxOH90I/view?usp=sharing
xii Jacobs Group (Australia) Pty Limited (2017), Vales Point Power Station Delta Electricity NOX Pollution Reduction Study (PRS), pp.9. Available at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1nEnWDuWZXDIZ5GtU8xDUIb-VZfxOH90I/view?usp=sharing
xiii Richard A.Broome, Jennifer Powell, Martin E.Cope, and Geoffrey G. Morgan, The mortality effect of PM2.5 sources in the Greater Metropolitan Region of Sydney, Australia, Environment International, Volume 137, April 2020, 105429. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2019.105429
xiv Jacobs, Vales Point - Evaluation of Potential NOx Emission Controls, 2021. Available at: https://yoursay.epa.nsw.gov.au/download_file/253/555
xv Katestone, Vales Point Power Station Air Quality Assessment for Group 5 Exemption Extension, October 2021, Available at: https://yoursay.epa.nsw.gov.au/download_file/257/555
xvi Richard A.Broome, Jennifer Powell, Martin E.Cope, and Geoffrey G. Morgan, The mortality effect of PM2.5 sources in the Greater Metropolitan Region of Sydney, Australia, Environment International, 8 Volume 137, April 2020, 105429. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2019.105429
xvii Aidan Farrow, Andreas Anhäuser and Lauri Myllyvirta, Lethal Power: How Burning Coal is Killing People in Australia (Report, August 2020). Available at: https://apo.org.au/sites/default/files/resource-files/2020-08/apo-nid307783.pdf
xviii Lisa Chang et. al., Major Source Contributions to Ambient PM2.5 and Exposures within the New South Wales Greater Metropolitan Region, Atmosphere 2019, 10, 138, available at: https://nespurban.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Major-Source-Contributions-to-Ambient-PM2.5-and-Exposures-within-the-New-South-Wales-Greater-Metropolitan-Region.pdf
xix Jacobs Group (Australia) Pty Limited (2017), Vales Point Power Station Delta Electricity NOX Pollution Reduction Study (PRS), pp.10. Available at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1nEnWDuWZXDIZ5GtU8xDUIb-VZfxOH90I/view?usp=sharing
xx Sunset Power International Pty Ltd, Financial statements, 2019. See: https://reneweconomy.com.au/vales-point-owners-pocket-another-62m-dividend-from-coal-generator-bought-for-1m-19794/
xxi Protection of the Environment Administration Act 1991, s 6. Available at: https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/view/html/inforce/current/act-1991-060