Media Releases | 17th Jun, 2021

Vic energy emergency declaration needed, but questions remain

In response to the Victorian government’s declaration of an ‘Energy Emergency’, Environment Victoria said the government and mine operator need to consider the risk of groundwater contamination when assessing options for diverting the Morwell River. 

“This is an extremely challenging situation and will require some tough decisions in the hours and days to come. We know from the previous Yallourn mine flood of 2012 just how quickly things can get out of control, and we support the government’s declaration of an energy emergency and hope the situation can be resolved,” said Environment Victoria Campaigns Manager Dr Nicholas Aberle. 

“The Minister’s statement today made clear that the emergency powers will allow EnergyAustralia ‘to divert the river water away from the embankment and its proximity to the mine walls’.” 

“In practice this could mean anything from diverting the water into an inactive part of the Yallourn mine to the west, diverting the Morwell River upstream so it tips into the empty Hazelwood mine pit, or even piping it around the mine into the Latrobe River.” 

“We don’t yet know what options are on the table. But whatever they are, EnergyAustralia and the government also need to consider the risk of groundwater contamination when diverting the river water.” 

“The Hazelwood pit for example has toxic coal ash that we know has been polluting groundwater for the last 15 years. Covering this coal ash with water could exacerbate that situation.” 

“Once the immediate emergency has passed there will be important questions to answer about why we are facing yet another mine stability problem at Yallourn. Has EnergyAustralia been properly maintaining the embankment? Was it fixed properly after the 2012 collapse? Was it designed to withstand a 1-in-100 year event? Why did the state’s Earth Resources Regulator allow coal mining so close to the embankment?” 

“This whole situation highlights that having so much of Victoria’s power generation coming from Latrobe Valley coal mines makes us vulnerable, particularly as climate change will make intense downpours and floods in Gippsland even more likely.” 

“It shows we need to transition to a grid with more renewable energy and storage spread across the state, ensuring geographically diverse sources of energy. The Victorian government has made great strides on this energy transition in recent years, without which we’d be in an even worse position now.” 


The Yallourn mine and power station caused by the collapse of the Morwell River into the mine in 2012

More images of the 2012 Yallourn flood are available here >>

Header image credit: Nine News

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