New coal licenses?
- The statement expresses preference for any new projects to source coal from existing mines. But it leaves the door open to granting new coal licences if companies can’t reach an agreement with the existing mine operators.
- With uncertainty already surrounding the ability to successfully rehabilitate the existing mines, it’s concerning that the door has been left open for the granting of new mining licenses at all.
- Although priority will be given to new coal fields adjacent to existing mines, this policy continues the uncertainty faced by local landholders affected by mining and exploration licences. It will also continue to prevent the land from being put to more meaningful and sustainable economic use.
A distraction from real sustainable opportunities
- The statement promises an ‘open for business’ approach to new coal projects while assessing them against other economic, social and environmental factors.
- Even with this caveat, over the past two decades many projects have promised to develop new uses for brown coal, but none have ever made it to commercial scale – even with millions of dollars of government funding.
- An ‘open for business’ approach to coal continues to give false hope for the local community and distracts from more sustainable and regenerative opportunities that the people of the Latrobe Valley deserve.
Emission standards for new coal projects
- The statement sets interim emission intensity standards for new coal power equivalent to a lower emitting gas fired power plant (0.45 t CO2-e per megawatt hour), and 0.3 t CO2-e per tonne of coal for other uses.
- These emissions standards are “interim” standards, and so they could be tightened further before being locked into regulations.
- This imposes more limits on CO2 emissions from coal than ever before, but allowing any new coal project to increase Victoria’s emissions makes it harder to achieve the cuts to climate pollution that we need. For example, Coal Energy Australia is proposing a coal-processing plant that would produce 0.1 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of coal, but using 20 million tonnes of coal per year adds another 2 million tonnes of CO2 to Victoria’s already very high climate pollution levels.
- These standards effectively rule out new coal-fired power stations, but there is no mention of cutting emissions from the three coal power stations we still have. That means, despite reforms to the Climate Change Act and the EPA, there is still no limit on how much carbon dioxide Yallourn and the Loy Yang power stations can produce.
- It is worth noting that the mining licences for Yallourn and Loy Yang expire in 2026 and 2037 respectively. We expect that any extension to these licences would need to fall within these emissions standards if those power stations are still operating.
Access to information?
- The new statement promises communities access to information on new coal projects, but access to information is not the same as consultation.
- Stakeholder consultation on the development of this policy was limited, and there was no public consultation process.
Implementing the recommendations from the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry, including the development of a Latrobe Valley Regional Rehabilitation Strategy
- This is a welcome inclusion in the statement, and a good reminder of the expectation that existing mines are stabilised and made safe from fire, as well as being rehabilitated into spaces that create a positive amenity for the community.
Overall, this coal policy still leaves the door open to polluting coal projects, and although it includes more restrictions than previously, it could still result in projects that make it very difficult for Victoria to meet our climate commitments. Unfortunately, it also allows coal advocates to pretend that more coal will help the Latrobe Valley, when what is needed is a real transition to a sustainable and regenerative economy.
With this policy statement, the Victorian government has missed an opportunity to build on its climate change and just transition commitments.