By Adam Carey and Ed Bourke
A waste-to-energy plant planned for the Latrobe Valley could burn the equivalent of more than half of Victoria’s domestic rubbish.
Garbage from 1.4 million Victorian homes could be converted to energy under the joint proposal from the owner of Victoria’s biggest paper mill and waste giant Suez.
Australian Paper announced late on Thursday that it would team up with Suez to build the huge energy plant, powered by hundreds of thousands of tonnes of household waste.
The plant at Maryvale would burn an estimated 650,000 tonnes a year of rubbish from Melbourne and Gippsland – roughly enough in cubic metres to fill three-quarters of the MCG, or 468 Olympic swimming pools.
That equates to about 55 per cent of Victoria’s annual output of household rubbish.
The company is one of Victoria’s biggest natural gas users, consuming about 8 per cent of the state’s industrial gas, and estimates it could cut its gas usage by about 60 per cent if the $600 million plant is built.
“As the largest industrial user of natural gas in Victoria and a significant energy consumer, we must develop alternative baseload energy sources to maintain our future competitiveness,” Peter Williams, Australian Paper’s chief operating officer, said.
But it must first overcome a legal challenge to the plant’s approval.
Lawyers for Environmental Justice Australia have challenged the Environment Protection Authority’s decision in November to approve the plant.
The challenge will be heard in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal soon.
Nicholas Aberle, campaigns co-ordinator with Environment Victoria, argued the waste-to-energy facility was not as green as the company claims.
“This is potentially a huge amount of Melbourne’s rubbish being burnt, with no assurances that some recyclable material won’t be burnt also,” Dr Aberle said.
The plant would also burn mountains of organic waste that could be better used as compost or fertiliser, he said.
Australian Paper’s announcement on Thursday followed the completion of a $7.5 million feasibility study into the plan that was funded by the Andrews and Morrison governments.
It must first secure contracts with local rubbish collection companies to source solid waste that is currently destined for landfill.
The company said it hoped to do this by 2020 and have the plant running by 2024. It is expected the plant would operate for 25 years.
The waste would be transported on tracks and by trains, via a rail spur that branches off the Gippsland line to the plant.
Energy produced by the plant would power the paper mill, with excess sold back into the grid.
The company said the plant would bring about a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of approximately 550,000 tonnes a year, the equivalent of taking 100,000 cars off the road.
It would also create 1600 full-time construction jobs while being built, and 440 full-time jobs when running.
Victorian households produce 2.23 million tonnes of rubbish, recyclables and organics over a year, according to data from state government agency Sustainability Victoria.
After recycling and the recovery of organic materials, around 1.18 million tonnes of rubbish is sent to landfill.
This story was published by The Age on 8 February 2019.