Paltry Particle Pollution Penalty For Coal Fired Clunker

Liddell power station penalty

Far from making polluters really pay, the NSW EPA signals it pays to pollute – the sooner we see Liddell Power Station’s exit, the better.

Located at Lake Liddell near Muswellbrook in the Hunter Region of New South Wales, Liddell Power Station is a 2GW (1.68GW currently operational) coal-fired power generator that was commissioned in the early 1970’s.

The ageing, emissions-spewing, coal-fired clunker will start being decommissioned in 2022, with the first generation unit to be taken offline next year and the remaining three units to close in April 2023.

And it’s not before time – the power station has been responsible for not only spewing huge quantities of carbon emissions over decades, but a lot of toxic crap too.

“Alleged” Air Pollution And “Alleged” Outcome

Last week, the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) announced it had fined Liddell’s owner, AGL Macquarie Pty Ltd , $15,000 for “alleged” air pollution offences.

Yep, that’s the right figure – it’s not missing a couple of zeros. Someone mentioned AGL could probably pay that out of petty cash.

According to the NSW EPA, AGL was for fined for allegedly (that word again) exceeding the licensed solid particles concentration limit for emissions from the facility’s four boilers in August to September last year.

NSW EPA Director Regulatory Operations Adam Gilligan said:

“This alleged outcome should serve as a reminder that environmental incidents such as these can come at a significant cost.”

Alleged outcome too? Might be a misquote/typo there. As for “significant” – hrm.

But AGL wasn’t just fined. In addition to being compelled to carry out rectification works, it also received an official caution for an exceedance on a separate one of the four boiler units around the same period.

Commenting on the penalty, Greenpeace Australia Pacific stated:

“Since 2015, AGL has breached their environmental licences 111 times, accounting for roughly three-quarters of all violations. These breaches cost AGL about $1.3 million, which is nothing to AGL but the cost to the environment and human health is enormous.”

On a related note, AGL and Greenpeace aren’t on the best of terms at the moment.

As mentioned, there is some light at the end of the tunnel with Liddell soon to cough its last. To its credit, AGL is replacing the power station with some renewables, including potentially solar and thermal storage and up to 500MW of batteries at the Liddell site. There are also upgrades to nearby Bayswater Power Station under way that AGL says will increase output without increasing coal use and emissions.

Fluffy Fines For Fossil Fuel F***ups

The NSW EPA seems to have a habit of leaving zeros off penalty amounts for coal power station operators wreaking havoc on the environment beyond what they are permitted to do. In October last year, it fined the owners of Vales Point $30,000 for licence breaches at the facility relating to contaminated material, including asbestos, “allegedly” spread on the site.

In January last year, AGL Macquarie entered into an Enforceable Undertaking with the EPA involving AGL paying $100,000 after another breach of coal ash management regulations in relation to Bayswater and Liddell Power Stations.

Perhaps NSW EPA is showing a bit of mercy with this latest fine given Liddell is being shown the door – and AGL was put under a lot of pressure from the federal government to keep the power station running; as originally it was to fully close in 2022. Or perhaps the maximum penalties the NSW EPA can impose in these situations is very low.

But the signal the NSW EPA is sending isn’t good and while Liddell may disappear, its toxic legacy will be felt for a very long time.

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.


  1. How about…

    Paltry Particle Pollution Penalty For Particularly Problematic Power Provider?

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