Liddell should close as planned

Liddell power station in the Hunter Valley

The only Australian company to have declared an interest in buying and keeping the 46-year-old Liddell coal-fired power station open beyond 2022 faces allegations of environmental mismanagement and under-reporting emissions.

The Liddell facility in the Hunter Valley is Australia’s oldest coal-fired power station.

Its owner, AGL, has been planning for its closure in 2022 for some time. Even this week CEO Andy Vesey clearly stated AGL's intention to close the plant then.

But environment and energy minister Josh Frydenberg and PM Malcolm Turnbull want to find an operator to keep this old clunker open for another five years.

The only company to have publicly expressed interest in buying Liddell is Delta Electricity, operator of the Vales Point power plant on the NSW Central Coast.

This does not fill us with any confidence.

As we reported in Toxic and terminal, our recent stocktake of Australia’s major east coast power stations, Delta Electricity appears to be under-reporting to the National Pollutant Inventory and it has been known to let coal dust blanket the suburbs surrounding its Vales Point facility.

Under-reporting of emissions

The company estimated that it released just 12,000kg of PM2.5 emissions (the fine particles that can be breathed deep into your respiratory system) from Vales Point during the 2015–16 reporting year.

This is unlikely to be accurate. The power stations at Eraring, Bayswater and Liddell all reported emitting more than 170,000kg of PM2.5 during the same year – a staggering 17 times as much as Delta claims was emitted from Vales Point.

Coal dust

Vales Point is arguably Australia’s most urban power station. It is located in a residential area with almost half a million people living in the cities of Newcastle and Lake Macquarie (to the north) and 300,000 on the Central Coast (to the south).

In February 2017, we visited Vales Point to observe whether the company was complying with its licence. On a hot, dry, windy day we observed a fleet of coal trucks dumping coal beside the power station. Dust was pouring off the pile and being blown into the surrounding area.

We immediately lodged a pollution complaint with the NSW EPA, requesting an investigation. The EPA said coal trucks must be covered and watering trucks were controlling dust. We observed uncovered coal trucks and no water trucks.

The EPA said coal would be transported by underground conveyors by 31 April when a new underground conveyor system was due to become operational. But we observed coal was still being delivered and dumped by truck when we conducted a follow-up visit on 8 June 2017.

Apparently AGL has told federal government ministers it would consider selling Liddell to a ‘responsible buyer’. We question whether Delta fits that description.

Responsible transition – or a fire sale?

In any case, there are plenty of reasons why old Liddell should not be kept open.

Another five years of Liddell means another 258,000 tonnes of toxic pollution released into the Hunter Valley.

Closing Liddell would relieve toxic air pollution in the Hunter Valley where communities regularly experience harmful concentrations of fine particle pollution, sulfur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen.

Liddell has never been fitted with selective catalytic reduction to control oxides of nitrogen or wet scrubbers to control emissions of sulfur dioxide. 

Replacing the aged, inefficient Liddell power station with renewable energy would reduce fine particle pollution in the Hunter Valley by almost 200,000 kg each year, leading to longer and healthier lives for residents of Singleton, Muswellbrook and beyond.

Having promised to close Liddell, AGL’s CEO Andy Vesey risks his credibility as a leader in energy transition if he sells this power station to a company with a track record of under-reporting and failing to control toxic pollution.

The community has been led to believe AGL planned a responsible transition from coal to renewables, not a fire sale of its ageing, run-down power plants.

This is precisely why the transition from coal should be actively managed by the federal government, not left to the whim of corporations that always have this year’s profits as their number one priority.

Read EJA’s Toxic and terminal report on Australia’s major east coast power stations

 


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