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Coal and water use

Currently the existing five power stations in the Latrobe Valley use 125 billion litres of water, equivalent to a third of Melbourne’s water use annually.

They cannot operate without these huge amounts of water. What's more, the coal mining operations that feed our coal plants also require water.

Of course Victoria’s coal industry fuels our water shortage in a second way. It produces huge amounts of the greenhouse pollution that causes climate change. Research commissioned by Melbourne Water estimates climate change will reduce the average annual volume of water available through Melbourne’s water system by 8 percent in 2020, and 20 percent by 2050.

Also a worry is the use of geosequestration or CCS technology within the coal industry, which threatens to increase the volume of water used by the industry even further. The technology requires a third more water than conventional coal-fired power stations.

There is a clear incompatibility between Victoria’s dwindling water resources and the coal industry’s massive demand for water. However this does not appear to be taken into account in the Government’s coal-related decisions.

Victoria’s coal-fired generators use significantly more water than their less polluting alternatives like combined cycle gas, renewable energy and energy efficiency. The table below shows that our most polluting coal-fired power stations also guzzle the most water.

Table 1. Typical annual freshwater consumption and CO2 intensity of power stations

Plant type

Once through wet cooling, subcritical coal (eg Hazelwood)

Closed cycle wet cooling, subcritical coal (eg Loy Yang A & B, Yallourn)

Open cycle gas turbine

Closed cycle once through gas turbnine

Closed cycle dry cooling gas turbine

Typical annual freshwater consumption for a 1000 MW plant 13 to 17 GL/year 17 GL/year 1 GL/year 5 GL/year 0.8 GL/year
CO2 intensity as generated 884 tonne/GWh 884 tonne/GWh 513 tonne/GWh 655 tonne/GWh 363 tonne/GWh

Table adapted from data in Smart, A. and A. Aspinall (2009) Water and the electricity generation industry: Implications of use.

For more on electricity generation and water use see this excellent report by the National Water Commission