By Peter Hannam
Pollution controls for major coal-fired power stations in NSW are so weak that they are comparable to “fairly under-developed third world countries”, a US energy expert says.
Dr Ron Sahu, a California-based air quality consultant, said the environment protection licences (EPLs) at the Mt Piper, Eraring and Vales Point plants were “very weak”.
“It is inexplicable,” said Dr Sahu, who has worked in Kenya, India, the US and China. “Your neighbouring drycleaner [in the US] would have a stronger licence, and I’m only half exaggerating.”
Dr Sahu was commissioned by Environmental Justice Australia to examine the three power plants, all of which will have the EPLs reviewed by the Environment Protection Authority by January 2019.
Mt Piper was the worst of the three, with no limit on the sulphur content of the coal it burns, Dr Sahu said. While Eraring had a 0.5 per cent limit by weight, it was set on a monthly basis and “could be much higher” on any given hour or day, he said.
“These power stations have polluted with few constraints for too long, operating under licences that were developed decades ago,” James Whelan, EJA campaigner, said. “These licences are finally being reviewed and must be improved. ”
“NSW power stations…operate and maintain best practice controls to minimise the emission of air pollutants,” an EPA spokeswoman said, adding the agency was working with plant owners to address the results of a “comprehensive review” of air-quality monitoring and reporting.
A spokesman for EnergyAustralia, operator of Mt Piper, rejected suggestions that its operations posed unacceptable risks to human health.
“We take great care to ensure emissions from our power stations remain within licence limits and that any impacts from our operations are socially and environmentally acceptable,” he said.
A spokesman for Origin, which runs Eraring, said the plant was the most efficient in National Electricity Market: “We support standardising environmental protection licences for NSW’s coal fired power stations and are currently consulting with the EPA.”
“We knew that the coal power plants in NSW were old clunkers and now this report confirms they are also a direct threat to our health with toxic emissions way above standards in the EU or China,” Cate Faerhrmann, Greens environment spokeswoman, said.
NSW Energy Minister Don Harwin was unavailable for comment. Last month, he told Parliament: “it is important to recognise that while there are certainly emissions that are problematic from coal-fired power stations, nevertheless they are a crucial part of the energy mix in this country and they will continue to be for some time”.
Dr Sahu said it was not the companies’ fault that they were some of the “lightest of regulatory touches that I have seen”.
“I’m blaming the regulatory framework that does so little to bring these large emissions under control,” he said.
Fairfax also sought comment from Delta Electricity’s Vales Point.
This story was published by the Sydney Morning Herald on 7 November 2018.