LaTrobe Valley Coal Power pollution poses health threat – World Environment Day

June 5, 2019 at 1:43 pm Leave a comment

Mercury pollution emissions from Australian coal power stations compared. Source: The Age

June 5 is world environment day and here we publish a question on pollutants from the coal fired power stations in the La Trobe Valley, asked by Brunswick Greens MP Tim Read in March.

Why aren’t these toxic pollutants such as mercury and Sulphur Dioxide more highly regulated and restricted? The technology exists to capture these and other pollutants, but the state government so far hasn’t ensured that the companies responsible fit the filtering technologies which are widely used overseas.

The EPA is currently drafting licence amendments and the licence review process report for the coal power stations. Increased limits, real time monitoring and regulation of pollution needs to be an important part of new licenses for the three energy companies: AGL Energy, Energy Australia, and Alinta.

Tim Read MP

Transcript from Victorian Parliamentary Hansard 7 March 2019:


Dr READ (Brunswick) (11:28): My question is for the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change. Minister, as you know, Victoria’s coal-burning power stations emit high levels of toxic compounds of sulphur and mercury. Sulphur dioxide causes asthma attacks. Mercury is a
cumulative neurotoxin. Yet Victoria’s power stations are allowed to emit about four times the levels of these substances as US power stations and even higher levels than in China and the EU. The Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) is currently reviewing Victoria’s coal power station operating licences. Could the government please consider ensuring that new licences set pollution limits consistent with those of Europe and the US to protect the community in the Latrobe Valley?

Members interjecting.

The SPEAKER: Order! If the member for Prahran and the member for Essendon want to have a conversation, they might want to do it outside.

Ms D’AMBROSIO (Mill Park—Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, Minister for Solar Homes) (11:29): I thank the member for Brunswick for his question. Our government is always up for considering reforms in many, many different spaces—absolutely in terms of climate change, energy and environment, the areas that I am responsible for, and of course in environmental protection and environmental health we are leading the country in that. So absolutely, yes is the answer. We only have to look at the strong reforming agenda that our government has delivered over the last four years in both environmental protection and environmental health, transforming the energy sector, decarbonising our economy and rebuilding the EPA with record investment and stronger powers. There is more to come, and I thank the member again for his question.

Dr READ (Brunswick) (11:30): I thank the minister. I am very pleased to hear this answer. The answer is also in line with the New South Wales Labor opposition, which has committed to introducing coal power pollution standards in line with international best practice. The Victorian EPA tell us that they are waiting on direction from the government to do this. Given the current high levels of toxic emissions by Victorian power stations, could the government please ensure that the EPA does introduce best practice pollution controls in Victoria?

Ms D’AMBROSIO (Mill Park—Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, Minister for Solar Homes) (11:31): I thank the member for Brunswick for the supplementary question. We have a continuing program of reform to improve air quality standards. I only have to direct the member to
the seminal piece of work that is currently underway in terms of the development of an air quality statement—an air quality strategy. There is more of course in this space that we will have much to say.

We are continuing to develop strong policies to ensure that we have got the best environmental protections and the best air quality protections that we can possibly put in place in our state.

Lily D’Ambrosio MP, Minister for Energy and Environment

A report in The Age newspaper from 31 March 2019, highlighted that Victoria’s three coal-fired power stations belched more than a tonne of mercury into the atmosphere during 2017/18 financial year.

The latest data from the federal government’s National Pollutant Inventory reveals Latrobe Valley’s Loy Yang A, Loy Yang B and Yallourn power stations collectively emitted 1007.5 kilograms of mercury into the atmosphere in 2017-18.

Yallourn alone emitted 435.5 kilograms of mercury, the most of any coal-fired power plant in Australia and a greater volume than all eight non-Victorian power plants combined.

Loy Yang A emitted 292 kilograms and Loy Yang B 280 kilograms. Next highest on the list was Queensland’s Gladstone power plant, which emitted 111 kilograms.

But it is not only mercury that is a problem, but a host of toxic compounds that is toxic to human health, as well as fine particulates that can be inhaled and do damage to our lungs.

It is worth reading Environment Justice Australia full media release on the National Pollution Inventory data release in full:

This year’s National Pollutant Inventory reveals soaring toxic emissions from coal-fired power stations and highlights 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,” said Environmental Justice Australia researcher, Dr James Whelan who spent Friday analysing the data.

“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 95% 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 has 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,” Dr Whelan said.

“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” said epidemiologist Dr Ben Ewald and member of Doctors for the Environment.

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.

Here are the pollution inventories for the 3 coal-fired power stations in the La Trobe Valley. Click to view:

AGL Loy Yang coal power station pollution inventory for 2017-18

Energy Australia Yallourn coal power station pollution inventory for 2017-18

Alinta owned Loy Yang B coal power station pollution inventory for 2017-18

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