By Matthew Kelly
A 2016 NSW EPA compliance report on Vales Point power station’s ash dam highlights numerous concerns about ongoing problems with the management of contaminated wastewater.
Yet two years later the authority indicated in its submission to a environmental impact statement for a solar farm on the site that its concerns had been allayed.
The State Government approved the $117 million project, which will provide power to 20,000 homes, earlier this month.
Environment Justice Australia believes the ash dam represents a similar long-term liability as the Pasminco lead smelter at Boolaroo.
“The toxic risk is largely unassessed and there are no agreed standards or methods for ash dump remediation in NSW,” Environment Justice Australia researcher Dr James Whelan said.
“The toxic effects of chemicals in coal ash are well established. In the US, rules for responsible containment of coal ash now require ash repositories to be lined.”
“For Vales Point that would require relocation of 4.5 million cubic metres of ash, a major engineering project that will presumably require the relocation of the solar array.”
An Environment Protection Authority spokesman said the authority had reviewed the environmental impact assessment for the project and identified a number of issues, including noise, vibration during construction and operation of the project.
“The environmental impact assessment identified appropriate mitigation measures to address these issues. The EPA was satisfied that these measures would safeguard the community and environment,” he said.
“The solar project will also be required to operate under strict conditions outlined in the existing Vales Point Power Station environment protection licence issued by the Environment Protection Authority to prevent impacts on the community and environment.”
A Delta Electricity spokesman said the company had worked through the items identified in the 2016 EPA audit and had completed all of the required work.
Company Secretary Steve Gurney said there had been no evidence of leaching from the ash dam into the groundwater table.
“Delta takes its environmental compliance obligations very seriously,” he said.
Vales Point is operated and managed to achieve full compliance with its environmental licence and legislation.”
This story was published by the Newcastle Herald on 14 November 2018.