We know that coal ash is a toxic waste material left behind after coal is burned. We also know that Australian coal ash dumps are not engineered appropriately to prevent contamination of the surrounding environment. The Bayswater coal ash dump is no different.
We commissioned a coal ash dump engineering expert to review the environmental impact statement (EIS) and make comment on its findings. The expert analysis revealed a lack of information about the project, so much so that we are of the view that the EIS does not fulfil the obligations imposed on AGL under the law as to what the EIS must include. One of the striking gaps in the EIS is AGL’s proposal to reuse huge amounts of coal ash without actually saying how.
AGL is proposing to expand its coal ash recycling operations to reuse up to 1 million tonnes per annum of coal ash. The EIS required AGL to explain how it would either increase market demand for coal ash or create new markets. The EIS fails to describe in any detail how AGL intends to increase market demand for coal ash, or create a new coal ash market. Rather, the EIS makes it clear that coal ash reuse is a market problem that the market will, presumably, resolve.
If AGL intends to reuse this amount of coal ash each year it must provide robust costed plans of how it will contribute to the expansion of the coal ash reuse market, or, actively create new opportunities for coal ash reuse. Community groups such as the Hunter Community Environment Centre have a lot of great ideas on how this can be achieved.
The industry approach to “beneficial” reuses for coal ash wouldn’t pass a pub test. The most recent Australian coal ash industry survey showed that a total of 5.9 million tonnes was used “beneficially”. Of that total, 3.5 million tonnes or 59 percent, was used for mining application, including mine backfill. Placement of coal ash in mines is extremely problematic and likely to create more problems than it solves. The grave environmental risks associated with backfilling mine voids with coal ash cannot be said to be a “beneficial” use.
NSW is currently holding an inquiry into coal ash. The Inquiry is looking into the economic and employment opportunities associated with, among other things, coal ash reuse. It is fundamental that the Inquiry’s recommendations on the opportunities associated with coal ash reuse are delivered, and the NSW government has had the opportunity to respond to those recommendations. This will provide the decision maker for the Baywater upgrade with an opportunity to consider AGL’s intentions regarding coal ash reuse for Bayswater and whether that accords with the NSW government’s intentions.
Submissions to the inquiry closed on 30 July. You can read our submission here.