New coal power plant approved in Victoria

22 May 2011

Friday afternoon syndrome* has been at full strength at Greenpeace over recent weeks. It has become the time of the week where all planned work should be just set aside so we can react to whatever appalling or bizarre decision is announced, usually by a government body. Last Friday it was the Victorian EPA keeping us on our toes as they gave works approval to a new coal-fired power plant in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley.

The coal plant – proposed by Melbourne company “HRL” – would be Victoria’s first in nearly 20 years and would increase Victoria’s carbon pollution by millions of tonnes each year. Despite all of the research, including our own, showing that Australia could be barely a decade from a society free from coal-fired electricity, HRL’s project would ensure Victoria is mining and burning brown coal well into the second half of this century.

For the EPA to approve a new coal-fired power plant in spite of all we know about the dangers of runaway climate change is a major dereliction of duty on their part. But the approval came with a twist: the EPA green-lighted only half the plant’s size that was applied for. Instead of the two-boiler, 600 Megawatt version proposed by HRL the EPA approved just one boiler at 300 Megawatts. What this means for the proposed power station isn’t entirely clear but it does open up a number of questions, including how building a plant at only half the scale affects its economics.

Not well, according a panel of experts who in 2006 assessed HRL’s application to the federal government for a $100 million grant. HRL eventually won that grant but not before the expert panel pointed out that the project would be uneconomic at anything less than 400 Megawatts. This was reported in the Saturday Age, the same story mentioning that none of the big four Australian banks are interested in funding the project – significant, especially considering the banks’ role in supporting dirty energy projects over the years.

While we are still facing the reality of a new coal-fired power station being built in Victoria, I’m pretty sure that HRL won’t have much appreciated the decision that was handed down. Especially as the project’s economic credentials are now looking even more vulnerable. To date, no private finance has been identified for HRL’s project and even the taxpayer-funded grant from the federal government of $100 million is now looking shaky – it is unlikely that the grant would have been awarded for a power plant of this scale.

It’s time to campaign hard and to kill off this dirty power plant once and for all. You can get involved by checking out our webpage (apologies as we update the page’s content to reflect the EPA’s decision) that goes into more detail on this dirty coal project and sign up to receive updates and ideas for actions that will help the campaign. If you’re in Melbourne, there’s something you can do right now: be at Parliament House (corner of Bourke and Spring Streets) at 12:45 pm on Tuesday, 24 May to join us in protest at the EPA’s decision to approve this new dirty coal plant.

Let’s stop HRL and make our energy future clean and renewable!

*It has been long understood that Friday afternoons are a great time for politicians to make unpopular announcements while the rest of the world (especially much of the media) is wrapping up for the week and presumably paying less attention. As a result, the spurious announcement is less likely to get a hiding in the public debate. Extreme conditions of Friday afternoon syndrome include “Thursday before Easter”, “Christmas Eve” and “anytime during Budget week” announcements.