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Hazelwood owner told to shut Italian coal plant blamed for deaths

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A fossil-fuelled power plant in Italy’s north – part owned by GDF Suez, the ultimate owner of Victoria’s Hazelwood brown coal generator – has been ordered to shut down two of its coal-fired generation units after a court ruled they were responsible for hundreds of human deaths and thousands of cases of heart and lung disease.

Italian news site Rai News reported on Tuesday that a judge directed police to take control of the Vado Ligure plant in the northern district of Savona, after finding in favor of prosecutors in the case.

Francantonio Granero, Savona’s chief prosecutor, had argued that emissions from the plant, owned by Tirreno Power, were responsible for more than 400 premature deaths between 2000 and 2007, and 2,000 cases of heart and lung disease.

Tirreno Power, which is 50 per cent owned by French energy giant GDF Suez, called the study on the plant’s health effects “biased” in a statement to United Press International last month.

The Vado Ligure plant in northern Italy consists of a combined-cycle unit powered by natural gas with a capacity of 800 megawatts and two coal-fired units, each with a capacity of 330 MW that date back to 1971.

“They have shut down the two coal units, while the combined-cycle one is not affected by the measure,” a spokesman for Tirreno Power told Reuters on Tuesday, adding the ruling seemed to be related to a violation of environmental requirements. “We do not understand the rational for this decision.”

The ruling could provide a timely heads up for GDF Suez, though, a subsidiary of which also owns a majority stake in, and operates, the Hazelwood coal plant and mine in Victoria’s La Trobe Valley, where a month-long fire has now become the subject of an independent inquiry.

The inquiry will investigate how the blaze started, the emergency response and whether the regulatory requirements for the mine were stringent enough. Health and environmental responses will also be investigated, although the terms of reference have not yet been finalised.

In the nearby La Trobe Valley community of Morwell, where residents have been badly affected by smoke and coal dust from the fire, the local Council has been given a $50,000 state government grant towards a recovery program, which it has kicked off by purchasing 24 special vacuum cleaners capable of filtering fine particles, as well as air-purifiers.  

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  • sunoba

    Interesting story!

    Readers wanting to know more about the Social Cost of Carbon (SCC) might like to look at references [1] and [2] (below). Ref [2] gives the SCC as between USD 6/t and USD 65 /t. The mid-range SCC was USD 27/t.

    Ref [1] gives SCC values that are significantly higher. Aspects included are land disturbance, methane emissions, carcinogens, public health burden, fatalities, emissions, lost productivity, etc. etc.

    [1] P R Epstein et al. “Full cost accounting of the life cycle of coal”, Annals of the NY Academy of Sciences 1219 (2011), 73-98.

    [2] N Z Muller, R Mendelsohn & W Nordhaus, “Environmental accounting for pollution in the United States economy”, American Economic Review, 101(5) (2011), 1649-75.

  • LM

    Who knew we could just sue them for destroying our health

  • Pedro

    $50K to buy 24 vacuum cleaners!! What a joke. Is Hazelwood going to pay the electricity bill for running 24 1-2kW vacuums 24/7??

    Why dont they get serious and put the fire out and just spend what it costs and send the bill to Hazelwood? I am sickened by the way these polluting industries do not take responsibility for their mess and free ride off the tax payer to clean up the mess they caused through their own negligence.

  • Alan

    A good example of the economic “externalities” coming home to roost. Business activities that have effects outside the scope of their business need to have these costs taken account of, rather than just be treated as “unknowns”. It’s not all about CO2 emissions even if that’s what is currently one of the big issues… other pollution, water (!) usage, etc etc etc as well as social costs must also be noticed. Sunoba gives a couple of good starting points!

  • Alen

    I hope the people of the town/s affected by the Hazelwood fire file a lawsuit against the owners, I’m sure there’s a lot of people like me out there willing to chip in to help cover the legal fees.

    Can’t forget the firefighters who are constantly exposed to this pollution, and they’ll most likely be the ones to most suffer the long-term health consequances.

  • nlaldm

    The Vaccuum cleaners were actually donated, Latrobe City council wasted the money, while the community suffered.