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New data reveals some coal-fired power stations have increased toxic pollution despite declining energy generation

April 06, 2022

Analysis of new data from the National Pollutant Inventory reveals AGL’s power stations across NSW and Victoria reported significant increases in some of the most toxic pollutants while energy generation in several stations dropped.  

Archaic coal-burning power stations are one of the biggest sources of air pollution in Australia, pumping out some of the highest levels of toxins most dangerous to human health, into the air we breathe. Substances like mercury have significant, accumulative and irreversible effects on the environment and human health.  

Analysis of AGL power stations by Environmental Justice Australia found: 

  • At AGL’s NSW power stations, despite a 31 per cent and 9 per cent drop in generation at Liddell and Bayswater respectively, both pumped more toxic pollution into the air in 2020-21 than the year prior 
  • All three AGL power stations increased their emissions of fine particle pollutants PM2.5 and PM10. Liddell more than doubled its particle PM2.5 pollution and almost doubled its particle PM10 pollution from 2019-20. It is the highest PM2.5 polluter in NSW 
  • The Victorian Loy Yang A power station reported an almost 70 per cent increase in particle pollutant PM2.5 from the previous year and alongside Bayswater is the worst polluter of sulfur dioxide of power stations analysed. 
  • Bayswater is NSW’s highest polluter of nitrogen oxides and mercury reporting an 81 per cent surge in mercury, and emitting four times more mercury than the next highest Eraring.   

Environmental Justice Australia Senior Lawyer Charley Brumby-Rendell said: “AGL is pumping tonnes of toxic chemicals into the air we breathe which cause chronic lung conditions, children to suffer asthma and babies to be born with low birthweight,”  

“While renewables have surged ahead in recent years, clunky coal-burning power stations are producing less power and polluting more compared to output, than they have in the past. 

“It’s shocking most of Australia’s power stations continue to operate without some of the most effective pollution reduction technologies, used widely around the world, that would reduce exposure for millions of Australians until we transition to renewable energy.    

“We know there is no safe level of pollution, so while coal-burning power stations continue to operate, pollution control technologies should be a requirement to protect the health of the community.” 

Kincumber GP Dr Ian Charlton said: “Air pollution from coal-burning power stations is a serious concern for the health of our community. It is strongly linked to people developing chronic lung conditions, such as asthma.” 

“On the Central Coast alone, these pollutants cause an extra 600 cases of childhood asthma and an increase in the number of hospital admissions for people with airways disease.” 

Further analysis of the NPI data 2020-21:  

Victoria: 

  • Victorian power stations are among the highest emitters of mercury in the country. All 3 power stations emitted 935kg of toxic mercury into the environment. The next eight biggest power stations in Australia combined emitted less than 400kgs.  
  • Alinta’s Loy Yang B is the worst emitter of mercury, almost nine times the highest in NSW, AGL-owned Bayswater.  
  • Yallourn reported 952 tonnes of PM2.5 emissions making it the second-largest polluter of PM2.5 out of all 2036 facilities nationally reporting the pollutant.   
  • Loy Yang A PM2.5 emissions rose steeply with a 68 per cent increase this year when compared to the same period last year putting AGL at seventh nationally.  
  • Despite some reductions in mercury emissions at Yallourn and Loy Yang B, they are alongside Loy Yang A in the top 10 worst mercury polluters nationally of 1455 facilities reporting.

NSW: 

  • Delta Electricity’s Vales Point power station emissions of particle pollutant PM2.5 tripled and PM10 more than doubled since the 2019-20 financial year, even though it had an 8 per cent reduction in energy generation.  
  • In 2020-21, Vales Point reported emitting 22 times the amount of PM2.5 pollution it did in 2012-13 despite generating 10 per cent less electricity.  
  • Despite a small reduction in its emission rate of oxides of nitrogen (NOx), Vales Point continued to emit NOx at a rate  80 per cent higher than neighbouring Eraring, which installed low NOx burners a decade ago. In December 2021, the NSW EPA gave Vales Point its third 5-year exemption from lower NOx limits and therefore Delta avoided having to install pollution controls.  
  • All five NSW power stations reported increased Mercury emissions. Mt Piper had a 135 per cent increase while energy generation only increased by 56 per cent. It emitted 17kg of toxic mercury into the environment, up from 7kg the previous year.

Queensland:  

  • Tarong is the country’s worst PM2.5 polluter out of all 2036 facilities nationally reporting the pollutant, and emits at almost double the rate of the next highest polluter, Yallourn. Its emissions of PM2.5 have tripled since 2017-18. Tarong reported an increase in electricity generation but its rate of polluting PM2.5 and PM10 exceeded this.  
  • Gladstone reduced electricity generation by 16 per cent but despite this increased PM2.5 and PM10 pollution by 15 and 16 per cent respectively.  Its rate of PM2.5 has tripled and PM10 has more than doubled since 2017-18. 
  • Stanwell, Gladstone and Tarong all placed within the top 20 worst mercury polluters nationally, of a total of 1455 facilities reporting for mercury. 

Find a spreadsheet (Excel) of EJA’s analysis here.

Contact: Kathryn Lewis, 03 8341 3110, [email protected] 

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