Blog | 21st Sep, 2018

Exposed: The dirty secrets of Victoria’s coal burning power stations

Environmental Justice Australia (EJA) has released expert reports on how pollution from Victoria’s coal power stations is controlled. They reveal an incredible picture of loose standards and pollution levels that would be unacceptable in many other countries.

Licences for Victoria’s Brown Coal power stations are being reviewed by Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority (EPA). The licences set limits for the many different kinds of toxic air and water pollution that they spew out, like mercury, particulate matter and sulphur dioxide.

Environmental Justice Australia commissioned these expert reports as part of the public submission process, and the conclusions weren’t pretty. One expert stated that Victoria’s coal burning power stations “are some of the more poorly controlled coal-fired power stations in the world“.

Unlike the air in the Latrobe Valley, what’s clear is that Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority can and must set tougher licence conditions to protect our health, land and water. The Victorian government must ensure world’s best practise is used to reduce our exposure to coal’s toxic impacts.

Below is a summary of the expert’s key points, along with links to their full reports.

Experts slam Vic's power plant pollution

Bendigo Advertiser

Pollution from coal-fired power plants in Victoria's east is higher than acceptable according to international experts, as the environment authority reviews operating licences.

Dr Ron Sahu

(Ph.D., QEP, CEM Engineer & Air Quality Consultant)

  • The Latrobe Valley power stations today (much less 30 years into the future) are some of the more poorly controlled coal-fired power stations in the world, including not only power stations in the US and Europe, but also China.
  • Loy Yang A units expect to operate, in effect, for a full lifetime of a power station without modern air pollution controls that are essential and in operation at most coal-fired power stations worldwide – for not only PM (particulate matter), but also SO2 (sulphur dioxide), NOx (nitrogen oxides), mercury, as well as various toxic air compounds that are inherent to the combustion of coal.
  • Yallourn’s wastewater monitoring is grossly inadequate. Numerous toxic contaminants are discharged via the dissolved (and not just the suspended) phase in wastewater. Not only is there no treatment of these contaminants, they are not even being monitored.
  • Other than electrostatic precipitators for removal of particulates, the Yallourn station does not have any of the modern controls one would expect to find at a coal-fired power station.

Full report

Bruce Buckheit

(Former US EPA regulator)

  • The claim by each of the facility operators that continuous monitoring devices for particulate matter (PM CEMs) are not commercially available is simply incorrect. These devices are commercially available, are increasingly being required for new and existing coal plants in the United States and Europe.
  • Based on the prevailing wind direction in the Latrobe Valley, the air quality monitors are poorly positioned to properly characterize the air quality impacting the Latrobe Valley population.
  • The air pollution emissions limits in the existing licenses do not appear to reflect the application of any form of best practice. Rather, they “permit” discharges far larger than the plants would emit without any effort to achieve best practice.
  • Since the Victoria plants have existed for decades without any constraint on SO2, NOx, PM2.5 or Hg emissions, or any tightening of the PM10emission limits that I am aware of, it is difficult to envision how a finding could be made that the current operating conditions reflect compliance with the obligation to apply best practice and pursue continuous improvement in environmental performance.
  • The Latrobe Valley plants under review each emit approximately a metric ton– 1,000,000 grams — of mercury per year.  By way of comparison, new units in the US permitted a few years ago with full mercury controls emit approximately 100 grams of mercury per year while burning waste coal.

Full Report

Dr Andy Gray

(Atmospheric scientist and dispersion modelling expert)

  • Despite the claims of the power station operators, the air pollution modelling shows that modelled emissions do not meet national ambient air standards in the Latrobe Valley.
  • Contrary to claims of the power stations operators, the power stations are a significant source of pollution in the Valley and their emissions should be controlled.
  • The modelled emissions for SO2 were close to four times the acceptable levels in the US.
  • Mercury emissions from the power stations appear to be much higher than the operators claim.

Full report