This year’s National Pollutant Inventory revealed soaring toxic emissions from coal-fired power stations and highlighted the need for our ageing fleet of generators to be fitted with readily available emission controls required in most other countries.

Coal-fired power stations remain the dominant source of Australia’s fine particle pollution(26% of the national ‘all sources’ total), oxides of nitrogen (26%), and sulfur dioxide (49%) and are responsible for an annual health bill of $2.6 billion.[1]

This year’s NPI confirms the urgent need for an overhaul of state pollution controls for coal-fired power stations and the introduction of national pollution standards at the federal level.

State governments are allowing coal-fired power stations to emit as much as 20 times more toxic air pollution than permitted in other countries.

State premiers could, at the stroke of a pen, reduce this toxic air pollution by 85% or more by requiring coal-burning generators to install best available technology to control fine particle pollution, mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide.

Installing proper pollution controls could improve health outcomes for millions of Australians. In other countries, these power stations would not be permitted to pollute at this level.

EJA’s analysis of this year’s NPI data revealed:

  • There is a serious flaw in the NPI methodology. Most power station operators estimate (rather than measure) emissions using handbooks developed 20 years ago by the industry. The QLD government-owned Stanwell power station in Central Queensland installed continuous emission monitoring and its reported emissions of oxides of nitrogen doubled this year from 18 to 36 million kilograms.
  • Victorian power stations emit far more mercury than other coal-fired power stations in Australia. Compared to most power stations which report emissions well under 100kg per annum, the three Latrobe Valley power stations reported emitting 280kg (Alinta’s Loy Yang B), 292kg (AGL’s Loy Yang A) and 436kg (EnergyAustralia’s Yallourn).
  • EnergyAustralia’s Yallourn power station is the highest mercury emitter of any Australian power station.
  • The NRG Gladstone power station emitted more oxides of nitrogen (NOx) than any other power station, despite generating only half as much energy as Origin Energy’s Eraring power station.
  • The QLD government-owned Tarong power station emitted more than 2 million kilograms of deadly fine particle pollution, 15 times more than Origin Energy’s Eraring, Australia’s largest power station. Tarong does not have bag filters.

Coal mining is the second greatest source of coarse particle pollution (22%) after metal ore mining (28%). Australia’s 92 coal mines emitted 320 million kg of PM10 in 2017-18.

  • Of the 50 mines emitting the highest levels of coarse particle pollution (PM10) nation-wide, 25 were in Central Queensland. The Dawson, Hall Creek and Callide mines, all in the top five, reported their PM10 emissions had increased by 6%, 18% and 145% respectively.
  • Coarse particle pollution (PM10) from coal mines in the Namoi region has increased significantly. Emissions from Maules Creek increased to 9,850 tonnes (up 59% in one year), Boggabri increased to 5,147 tonnes (up 27%), Tarrawonga to 2,343 tonnes (up 31%) and Werris Creek to 2,247 (up 29%). The NSW EPA’s ‘Coalwatch’ scheme has again failed to control particle pollution.

By measuring rather than estimating emissions, the Stanwell coal-fired power station found they were in fact emitting twice as much toxic pollution. All power stations should be required to install continuous stack monitoring.

In other countries, coal-fired power stations are required to install best practice emission controls. Bag filters, flue gas desulfurisation, selective catalytic reduction and activated carbon injection reduce emissions of particle pollution, sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen and mercury respectively by 85% or more.

Australian governments should reject all proposals for new or expanded power stations unless they include modern pollution control technologies.

The National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) is self-reported by industry and not audited, but it is Australia’s most comprehensive source of air pollution data. The Federal Government publishes the NPI annually from information supplied by various industries, compiled by the states and territories.

EJA’s analysis (Excel) and fact sheet on the National Pollutant Inventory are available here.

Insights in context, state by state:

National insights and context

  • Coal-fired power stations are the dominant source of Australia’s fine particlepollution (26% of the national ‘all sources’ total), oxides of nitrogen (26%), and sulfur dioxide (49%).
  • They are responsible for an annual health bill of $2.6 billion.
  • Pollution licences set stack emission limits for power stations. International experts have advised the Victorian and NSW governments that the current limits are many times higher than those permitted in developed and most developing countries and that there is no technological barrier to adopting best practice limits andpollution controls.
  • Coal mining is the second greatest source of coarse particle pollution (22%) after metal ore mining (28%). Australia’s 92 coal mines emitted 320 million kg of PM10in 2017-18.

Victoria insights

  • Victorian power stations emit far more mercury than other coal-fired power stations in Australia. Compared to most power stations which report emissions well under 100kg per annum, the three Latrobe Valley power stations reported emitting 280kg (Alinta’s Loy Yang B), 292kg (AGL’s Loy Yang A) and 436kg (EnergyAustralia’s Yallourn).
  • Victoria’s three brown coal generators are not fitted with bag filters. Bag filters have been standard practice internationally and in other Australian states for decades. They capture more than 99% of deadly particle pollution.
  • Pollution licences for Victoria’s three coal-fired power stations are currently under review by environment minister Lily D’Ambrosio. Health experts have urged the Andrews government to compel all three to install best available technologies to dramatically reduce toxic air pollution.

NSW insights

  • In the Hunter Valley where the Bayswater and Liddell power stations are located, fine particle pollution levels exceed the national standard every year. Coarse particle pollution (PM10) from coal mines in the Namoi region has increased significantly. Emissions from Maules Creek increased to 9,850 tonnes (up 59% in one year), Boggabri increased to 5,147 tonnes (up 27%), Tarrawonga to 2,343 tonnes (up 31%) and Werris Creek to 2,247 (up 29%). The NSW EPA’s ‘Coalwatch’ scheme has again failed to control particle pollution.  Origin Energy’s, Eraring power station, has significantly reduced its fine particle emissions.
  • There is currently no air pollution monitoring in Lithgow near the Mt Piper power station or on the NSW Central Coast close to the Vales Point and Eraring power stations, so these communities do not know what they are breathing.
  • The Berejiklian Government recently reviewed the pollution licences for Vales Point, Mt Piper and Eraring power stations, requiring no new or additionalpollution controls.
  • New power stations as proposed in 2017 by the Australian Minerals Council for the Hunter Valley would not be fitted with modern pollution controls.

Queensland insights

  • Tarong power station emitted more than 2 million kilograms of deadly fine particlepollution, 15 times more than Eraring, Australia’s largest power station. Tarong does not have bag filters, the most effective pollution control for fine particlepollution.
  • The NRG Gladstone power station emitted more oxides of nitrogen (NOx) than any other power station, despite generating only half as much energy as Origin’s Eraring.
  • Continuous emission monitoring at Stanwell revealed that the generator emitted twice as much NOx as previously estimated.