Victorian EPA Coal Licence Review “Fail”

Coal power pollution in Victoria

Image: Stephen Edmonds, CC BY-SA 2.0

After spending more than 3 years reviewing operating conditions for coal power plants, Victoria’s  Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is finally done – and its decisions have been found lacking.

The licence review involved Victoria’s three brown coal-fired clunkers: Yallourn, Loy Yang A and Loy Yang B. The process also included public consultation, which resulted in 493 submissions from the community.

What The EPA Says

The EPA states the new conditions aim to protect the local environment and provide greater transparency on brown coal fired power station emissions. Among the changes to licencing:

  • Limits for mercury, fine particles (PM2.5) and coarse particles (PM10) for each power station.
  • Air discharge limits for most parameters reduced for all three.
  • Yallourn must install a continuous emissions monitoring system with the capability of monitoring oxides of nitrogen and sulphur dioxide in real time.
  • Monitoring of extremely hazardous carcinogenic, mutagenic, teratogenic, highly toxic or highly persistent substances that may threaten the beneficial uses of the air environment under licence added.
  • Exemption hours for start-ups and shutdowns varied.
  • Yallourn and Loy Yang A had licencing changes requiring rehabilitation plans for coal ash dumps and implementation of mine dust controls.
  • Wastewater discharge limits for most parameters reduced
  • The power stations are required to continually share emissions data, which will be posted on their associated websites.

EPA Executive Director of Regulatory Standards, Assessments and Permissioning Tim Eaton stated:

“Through our licence review we’re reduced emission limits and are making sure that the community has the best information about the emissions coming from power stations in a timely matter. The health of the local community and the environment is EPA’s first priority, and these additional requirements will ensure both remain protected.”

Environment Victoria: “An Outrageous Failure”

While the EPA isn’t done yet as it will further amend all licences to ensure consistency with the Environment Protection Amendment Act 2018 (the Act) starting in July this year, Environment Victoria was not impressed; calling the EPA’s effort a “disgrace”.

“It completely fails on climate AND toxic pollution. There are no limits on greenhouse gas pollution and the review has only fiddled around the edges on toxic air pollution.”

The organisation says coal burning power stations account for 40% of Victoria’s carbon emissions and the EPA was “missing in action on the biggest environmental threat of our time”.

Environment Victoria is considering its legal options to challenge what it says is an outrageous failure and is calling on the state’s Minister for Environment, Energy and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio to step in and address the situation.

The Victorian Greens likewise slammed the lack of carbon emissions restrictions, and also said the mercury ‘cap’ is so high it won’t actually reduce mercury pollution. It states the EPA’s decision wasn’t just a blow for the climate, but also the Latrobe Valley community living with the impacts of local coal fired electricity generation.

While the results of the EPA’s licence review may be disappointing, one of these power stations could have all its emissions reduced to zero in the not-too-distant future.

Recent analysis by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) and Green Energy Markets indicates Yallourn W could be under significant financial stress by 2025 due to the huge amount of wind and solar energy supply expected to be added to the National Electricity Market (NEM) over the next few years. Yallourn W is currently scheduled to commencing closing in 2029, with completion in 2032.

However, Loy Yang A isn’t scheduled to close until 2046 and in the case of Loy Yang B, 2048.

On a related note, last week Secretary-General Guterres urged OECD countries to commit to phasing out coal power by 2030.

UPDATE March 10: This morning, EnergyAustralia announced Yallourn power station will retire in mid-2028 instead of 2032, and committed to building a 1.4 GWh battery by 2026. In one fell swoop, the closure of Yallourn will see EnergyAustralia’s carbon dioxide emissions reduce by over 60 per cent relative to today. According to Environment Victoria, Yallourn spews the most climate pollution per unit of energy generated of any power station in Australia.

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.

Comments

  1. Des Scahill says

    Are details of the full extent of the subsidies being given to coal burning power stations in general anywhere to be found? Or perhaps details even for just for one or two of the bigger ‘clunkers?

    My own sense is that if we knew the sum total of all the subsidies that have been granted over recent years, it would be a somewhat staggering amount.

    • Peter Brett says

      Des Scahill the only recent study I have found is the following from the Principal Economics report, commissioned by the Minerals Council of Australia. It’s not young but it found, in terms of per energy unit generated, that the $2.8bn in subsidies for renewables in 2013-14 translated into an output of almost
      $412/MWh for solar,
      $42/MWh for wind and
      $18/MWh for all other renewables including hydro.
      However, subsidies attributable to generation from coal were less than $1/MWh and less than 30c/MWh for natural gas……”

      • Geoff Miell says

        Peter Brett,

        Couldn’t you find the International Monetary Fund (IMF) study titled “Global Fossil Fuel Subsidies Remain Large: An Update Based on Country-Level Estimates” published May 2019? The Summary includes:

        “This paper updates estimates of fossil fuel subsidies, defined as fuel consumption times the gap between existing and efficient prices (i.e., prices warranted by supply costs, environmental costs, and revenue considerations), for 191 countries. Globally, subsidies remained large at $4.7 trillion (6.3 percent of global GDP) in 2015 and are projected at $5.2 trillion (6.5 percent of GDP) in 2017. The largest subsidizers in 2015 were China ($1.4 trillion), United States ($649 billion), Russia ($551 billion), European Union ($289 billion), and India ($209 billion). About three quarters of global subsidies are due to domestic factors—energy pricing reform thus remains largely in countries’ own national interest—while coal and petroleum together account for 85 percent of global subsidies. Efficient fossil fuel pricing in 2015 would have lowered global carbon emissions by 28 percent and fossil fuel air pollution deaths by 46 percent, and increased government revenue by 3.8 percent of GDP.”
        https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WP/Issues/2019/05/02/Global-Fossil-Fuel-Subsidies-Remain-Large-An-Update-Based-on-Country-Level-Estimates-46509

        Peter, couldn’t you find this either?
        https://theconversation.com/matt-canavan-says-australia-doesnt-subsidise-the-fossil-fuel-industry-an-expert-says-it-does-131200

        Yet “the only recent study” you could find info on was “commissioned by the Minerals Council of Australia”? Why is that, Peter? Perhaps you don’t want to find inconvenient evidence/data/analysis for, it seems, your apparent ideological narrative?

        If you think Australia is doing its fair share on cutting emissions, think again!
        https://twitter.com/simonahac/status/1363816046130434048

        Perhaps you could take a look at an article dated 3 Aug 2020, by Dr Christine Shearer, programme director for coal at Global Energy Monitor, titled “Analysis: The global coal fleet shrank for first time on record in 2020”.
        https://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-the-global-coal-fleet-shrank-for-first-time-on-record-in-2020

        There’s usually a “Boom and Bust” detailed analysis report published by Global Energy Monitor late March annually on the state of global coal-fired power station activity (planned, cancelled, under construction, operational, and retirements) over the previous year. Last year’s report is here: https://globalenergymonitor.org/report/boom-and-bust-2020/

        The Global Coal Plant Tracker data is updated biannually (Jan & Jul).
        https://globalenergymonitor.org/projects/global-coal-plant-tracker/

        I’d suggest you broaden your information horizon, Peter.

      • Des Scahill says

        Peter.

        It’s the overall magnitude in $ of the total subsidy amount paid, not the per unit MWh that matters. There are CO2 and other emission considerations as well.

  2. Peter Brett says

    Michael,
    thanks for the summary. It’s obvious all three of these power stations must be shut down as soon as possible. With China building approximately 40 new high-efficiency coal-fired power stations every year it is obvious we are not pulling our weight in the containment of CO2 emissions.

    • Geoff Miell says

      Peter Brett,
      You state: “It’s obvious all three of these power stations must be shut down as soon as possible.”

      Perhaps EnergyAustralia has taken your advice, eh? What’s next to close?
      https://reneweconomy.com.au/energyaustralia-says-yallourn-coal-generator-to-close-early-in-2028/

      If humanity cannot get its GHG emissions rapidly reduced, then its inevitable progressively more parts of the world will become uninhabitable. Per the PNAS paper titled “Future of the human climate niche” published May 2020, it includes:

      “We show that for thousands of years, humans have concentrated in a surprisingly narrow subset of Earth’s available climates, characterized by mean annual temperatures around ∼13 °C. This distribution likely reflects a human temperature niche related to fundamental constraints. We demonstrate that depending on scenarios of population growth and warming, over the coming 50 y, 1 to 3 billion people are projected to be left outside the climate conditions that have served humanity well over the past 6,000 y. Absent climate mitigation or migration, a substantial part of humanity will be exposed to mean annual temperatures warmer than nearly anywhere today.”
      https://www.pnas.org/content/117/21/11350

      Figure 3 shows an expansion of extremely hot regions in a business-as-usual climate scenario (i.e. RCP8.5 scenario):

      * Black areas shown are essentially uninhabitable for humans in 2020 (i.e. mean average temperatures greater than 29 °C).

      * Brown hatching areas are essentially uninhabitable for humans 50 years from now (i.e. 2070), under a high emissions scenario. Absent migration, that area would be home to 3.5 billion people in 2070 following the SSP3 scenario of demographic development.
      https://www.pnas.org/content/117/21/11350#F3

      Scary enough, eh? But then add in more locations due to:

      * inundation by sea level rise;
      * being too storm-wrecked to live in;
      * being without permanent water; and/or
      * where agriculture is no longer possible.

      Either China’s, as you suggest: “building approximately 40 new high-efficiency coal-fired power stations every year”, and all other fossil fuel infrastructure throughout the world, become ‘stranded assets’ soon, OR there’s an increasing risk of human civilisation collapse later this century due to catastrophic climate change.
      https://twitter.com/World_Traders/status/1365005573310275585

      What would you choose for you and your family’s futures, Peter?

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