News | 21st Feb, 2011

Power plant plan stalls over design

Monday, 21 February 2011
Adam Morton, The Age

A proposal for a new coal-fuelled power plant for the Latrobe Valley has stalled as the company behind the plan fails to answer Environment Protection Authority questions about its design.

Melbourne coal technology company HRL last year submitted, withdrew and re-submitted an application to build a plant at Morwell using new gasification technology said to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired electricity.

In early December the EPA asked for more information about the $750 million proposal's gasification technology, emissions and noise levels.

A final response was expected in January but had not been received by Friday.

EPA chief executive John Merritt told The Age the authority was doing everything it could to make the right decision.

''We know this is a contentious decision,'' he said. ''We have progressively been seeking information to help us [decide] and some of that is still outstanding.''

The proposal for the 600-megawatt demonstration plant sparked a debate over whether technology with emissions lower than brown coal but roughly equivalent to a modern black coal plant should be developed, given the state's target of a 20 per cent emissions cut by 2020.

The EPA received more than 4000 submissions on the proposal, most of them opposed to it.

If the plant is approved, green groups plan a legal challenge to test the EPA's interpretation of the emissions limit for new power plants – 0.8 tonnes of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour of electricity generated – introduced by the former Labor government.

The challenge would also test whether the proposal qualifies as best practice.

Environment Victoria campaigns director Mark Wakeham said consideration of whether the project was best practice should compare it with all baseload power options, not just coal.

''The EPA is consistently talking about how it wants to be a regulator with muscle,'' he said. ''Here is an opportunity to demonstrate that it will only consider genuine best-practice proposals.''

HRL spokeswoman Maria Brejcha said the company was going through the usual EPA process and directed questions about the application to the authority.

Announced in 2006, the HRL project won $100 million in federal funding and $50 million in state funding based on a 2009 start date.

After several delays, it appeared to gain momentum in September with the announcement it had signed an engineering, procurement and construction contract with a Chinese company.

Energy Minister Michael O'Brien said the government would maintain Labor's support of the HRL project. He said it was committed to backing ''clean coal'' technologies as a way to to help the environment and support jobs in the Latrobe Valley.


More resources

Read our submission objecting to the HRL power station here

We have plans for a big campaign to put a stop to this power station. Find out more here