International experts slam Victorian power station regulation
EJA recently commissioned three US power station experts to review whether the Victorian EPA is properly managing the toxic emissions from the Latrobe Valley power stations. The EPA is completing its five-yearly review of power station pollution licences. Throughout the process the EPA and the power station operators have continued to claim that emission levels are fine, that pollution levels in the Latrobe Valley do not exceed national standards, and that further improvements don’t need to be made – or can’t be made.

Power stations emit more than 30 toxic substances that impact on human health. Fine particle pollution (PM2.5), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) in particular are emitted in large amounts by power stations and can cause a range of health impacts such as asthma, heart attack, stroke, and lung cancer. Mercury emissions, even if small, are a huge concern as mercury builds up over time in the environment and eventually gets into our food, causing serious health problems.

Power station pollution controls expert Dr Ron Sahu, air quality modelling expert Dr Andrew Gray, and Bruce Buckheit, the former Director of the USEPA Air Enforcement Division, conducted the review.  The result – they were not impressed.

The experts’ reports show that the way the power stations are currently being regulated doesn’t protect community health and that Victorian power stations are not keeping pace with pollution controls required in most coal-burning countries. Their findings included that:

  • The Latrobe Valley power stations are some of the most poorly controlled coal-fired power stations in the world, including not only power stations in the US and Europe, but also China.
  • Contrary to operators’ claims, the power stations are a significant source of pollution in the Valley and their emissions should be controlled.
  • The modelled emissions for sulfur dioxide from the power stations were almost four times the acceptable levels in the US, and mercury emissions from the power stations appear to be much higher than AGL, Alinta and EnergyAustralia claim.
  • Given what we know about the harmful effects of certain air emissions, such as fine particle pollution (PM2.5) which has no threshold below which there is no harm, the goal should always be the lowest possible emissions and impacts.
  • AGL expects to operate Loy Yang A for another 30 years – in effect, another full lifetime for the ageing power station – without modern air pollution controls that are essential, and operating at most coal-fired power stations worldwide.
  • The Latrobe Valley power stations could easily be fitted with Flue Gas Desulfurisation (FDG), Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR), upgraded particulate matter controls and activated carbon injection for mercury control. These technologies are cost effective and feasible. FGD and SCR reduce emissions of oxides of nitrogen and sulfur dioxide by 85% or more.
  • Limiting pollution from large coal-fired power plants is the most cost-effective option for controlling pollution from stationary sources – far more cost-effective than attempting to limit pollution from small businesses or individuals.

The EPA has the power to require the power stations to reduce their emissions and install pollution controls that are mandatory in many other countries. Numerous health studies around the world have shown that there are health benefits for every tonne of air pollution reduced. When pollution controls are widely available that reduce power station pollution by up to 95%, surely our goal should be to reduce pollution to as low as possible to protect the health of people in the Latrobe Valley.

The EPA will make its decision in the next couple of months. Will you contact the EPA asking them to require best practice pollution controls on the Latrobe Valley power stations?

Read EJA’s final submission to EPA Victoria review of brown coal power stations licences including summary of the expert reports

Read the expert reports:

Read more about the review and our two previous submissions

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