Media Releases | 1st Sep, 2021

Call for inquiry into Yallourn river diversion cracking and power risk

Community and environment groups are calling for an inquiry into massive cracking of the Morwell River Diversion at the Yallourn coal mine amid new concerns about the risks it poses to electricity supply this summer.

The groups, led by Environmental Justice Australia and Environment Victoria and supported by VR Fish and Latrobe Valley and Gippsland community groups, sent a formal letter addressed to the Victorian Premier two weeks ago.

The letter argues that an independent investigation of the causes would provide confidence to the Australian Electricity Market Operator (AEMO) that future problems at the mine can be avoided.

On Tuesday AEMO released its forecast of grid supply and demand, which confirmed the damage at Yallourn – caused by heavy flooding in June – is the biggest risk to electricity supply over the peak summer period.

Bronya Lipski, lawyer at Environmental Justice Australia, said:

“If the threat posed by the collapse of the Morwell River Diversion (MRD) was enough to trigger energy emergency powers under two Acts of Parliament, then it’s enough to warrant independent, public scrutiny.

“Now the electricity market operator has said structural problems at Yallourn pose the biggest risk to the grid this summer, we need a proper, independent inquiry to get to the bottom of what went wrong.

“The MRD failed catastrophically after heavy rainfall in June 2012, filling the mine pit with up to 60 billion litres of water. It took two years and $150 million to repair.

“Given this previous failure, EnergyAustralia and regulatory bodies should have foreseen that heavy rainfall could cause the same issue again.They’ve been largely silent about this and the community – and electricity users – need answers as to how this has happened.”

Environment Victoria Campaigns Manager Dr Nicholas Aberle said:

“There are serious questions that still haven’t been answered. Were lessons learned from the previous Morwell River Diversion collapse? Did the regulator allow mining too close to the embankment? Did EnergyAustralia properly rebuild the embankment after the last failure? Have they maintained it properly?

“The MRD is on private land, but the damage affects the Morwell River which supplies freshwater to the internationally recognised Gippsland Lakes downstream. That makes this a matter of serious public interest.

“The Andrews government has a strong history of responding to crises in the Latrobe Valley, including establishing and fully implementing the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiries. We call on the government to build on this legacy by announcing an independent inquiry into what has gone wrong at the Yallourn mine that has now put us in this position.

“At the same time, we need to speed up the transition to renewable energy and storage across the state. Relying on a few big old coal-burning power stations in a single location leaves us vulnerable.

“Even before this event, Victoria’s coal power stations were the least reliable in the electricity grid. Yallourn and Loy Yang A had 67 breakdowns between December 2017 and December 2019, and AEMO warned brown coal generators were a risk to reliability in 2019.”

The letter calling for an inquiry is signed by groups Environment Victoria, Environmental Justice Australia, Voices of the Valley, VR Fish, Friends of Latrobe Water, Latrobe Valley Sustainability Group, Great Latrobe Park, Gippsland Recreational Fishers Alliance, Environment East Gippsland.

For comment

Bronya Lipski, Lawyer, Environmental Justice Australia

Phone: 0427 115 491

Dr Nicholas Aberle, Campaigns Manager, Environment Victoria

Phone: 0402 512 121