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Global Warming

May 23, 2011

Another dirty coal plant approved

The approval by the Victorian EPA on Friday of a new coal power station is set to cr

John Hepburn

John worked as a mechanical engineer making components for the coal, oil and nuclear industries before becoming an environmental activist in the mid 1990's. He co-founded a successful recycling business in Brisbane before moving to Sydney to work with Greenpeace. He has a strong interest in the politics of technology and in social movement strategy, and, like many, is extremely concerned about climate change. He works part-time as a senior campaigner with the Greenpeace Australia Pacific climate change campaign.

The approval by the Victorian EPA on Friday of a new coal power station is set to create yet another headache for Julia Gillard. In the leadup to the election, she promised that “We will never allow a highly inefficent and dirty power station to be built again in Australia”.

With a projected emissions intensity of 0.8tonnes of CO2/MWh (almost double the OECD average), the HRL power station in the Latrobe Valley is clearly a highly inefficient and dirty power station. So presumably, either there will be some kind of federal intervention to block it, or Gillard will break an election promise.

But even if the political system fails, as it so commonly does, the plant may not go ahead for purely financial reasons. The front page of Saturday’s The Age ran the headline “Big banks ‘no’ to coal plant”, revealing that all four of the major banks have stated that they are not involved in the project. This means that HRL is likely to struggle to arrange finance, even with $150million in direct government handouts.

The fact that none of the big four banks is involved in HRL is no doubt partly a reflection of the individual project, which is highly speculative and financially marginal, but also reflects the wider sentiment that coal is slowly but surely having it’s social license withdrawn. While none of the big four banks have categorically ruled out financing new coal power stations, they know that they face significant reputation risks from being associated with the coal sector.

So, while HRL has received at least partial approval, there is still a long road to travel before they can obtain finance and start construction. Even then, it is likely that the plant would be the focus of a sustained campaign of direct action to physically stop it from being built.

As usual, regulators are running to catch up to community expectations.

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5 thoughts on “Another dirty coal plant approved

  1. Eponymous

    Yeah, few organisations (WWF for example) consider dams over 25MW to be renewable, because of the methane emissions from anaerobic digestion (well noted above) and the amount of land flooded. The ‘just build a dam’ reflex is strong in Australia; but few people actually have any ideas of where to put one. You need mountains and rivers. Both of which are in scarce supply here.

    On the 0.8T/MWh, have you got a source for the OECD average? My understanding is that 0.8T/MWh makes it one of the most efficient plants in AUstralia; Hazelwood is 1.3 ish, and the super-critical plants in Qld about .78T/MWh. O.4 is CCGT territory.

    Note that Julia caveatted that statement with ‘no new _dirty_ plants’, where ‘dirty’ is a term defined by Government.

  2. kd


    Not to mention all those carbon emissions caused by anaerobic digestion of all that bio-sequestered vegetation/soil biota.

  3. PeeBee

    galeg, I think of a few reasons why they don’t:

    1. They are not cheap for the energy they provide
    2. There aren’t many areas where you can put one
    3. Rainfall over the last 15 years has been trending downward
    4. Evaporation rates over the last 15 years has increased
    5. Percipitation as snow has decreased and falling instead as rain (means summer storage is reduced – which is when electricity prices are at their highest
    6. They don’t store that much energy (if you ran Victoria on hydro only, the dams would be empty by the end of the week.)
    7. And this is probably the most important reason for Ted, you stuff up wilderness when you flood it. (I know Ted is concerned about this because he has put the cows back into the Alpine Park to protect it from wildfires).

  4. galeg

    Cannot understand why the Vic Gov does not encourage the building of a couple of decent size dams in the alps and produce hydro power. At least we would then have minimal carbon producing peak energy to meet our growing requirements. We would have to flood a few valleys, but have a chance to reduce coal burning.

  5. madelinelizabeth

    well said john – interesting to note that at 0.8 tonnes of Co2 the HRL project is still almost double that of the OECD average… certainly puts paid to the EPA suggestions that this is somehow ‘best practice’. as for the big banks… well… you only need to look at HRL’s bodgy offices and branding to know that they’re a paper thin company that’s major claim to fame is making bbq fuel. yikes!