Mixed Greens: EPA ruling on HRL coal plant overturned | RenewEconomy

Mixed Greens: EPA ruling on HRL coal plant overturned

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VCAT overturns EPA ruling on HRL coal plant, allowing it to double in size; Dyesol completes fundraising; and a guide for farmers on carbon storage.

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In the same week that saw the US EPA register a win in the battle against the development of new coal-fired power capacity, the EPA in Australia has suffered a stinging defeat, with Victoria’s Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) overturning the EPA’s decision to allow HRL/Dual Gas to build just 300MW of coal-fuelled plant in the state’s La Trobe Valley – a decision that was, itself, being challenged by opponents of any new coal plant being built at all – and approving the full 600MW originally proposed by the project developers. The controversial coal plant – that will be powered by a combination of brown coal and natural gas, known as ‘syngas’ and have an estimated lifespan of 30 years – came onto the radar in 2007, when the Howard government committed $100 million to its development, subject to conditions. The project then failed to meet those conditions and its approval was challenged in the courts. Last month, the federal government delayed its decision on whether the $100 million grant of public funds should be handed to the project, while the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal finished hearing submissions from Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA) and various other parties opposing the new plant.

DEA was one of four objectors, including Environment Victoria, who sought to review the EPA’s decision to approve a 300MWe plant, claiming that the emissions, even from a plant this size, would be inconsistent with the State Environment Protection Policy (Air Quality Management) (SEPP (AQM)). It marked the first time a medical organisation had challenged the EPA on a coal plant permit, the national doctors group objecting on the more specific grounds that the pollution emitted would make local residents sick. “Burning coal results in the release of a toxic cocktail of air pollutants that can cause death and disease. This mixture includes sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, fine soot like particulates and mercury. Exposure to these chemicals has been shown to result in increased hospital admissions, worsening of lung and heart diseases and even sudden death,” said Dr Eugenie Kayak, an anaesthetist and  Victorian DEA spokesperson. “The health of people living in the Latrobe Valley will be risked if this coal plant proceeds because they will be breathing these toxins every day,” she said. “By contributing to climate change this coal plant will also harm health globally by increasing the frequency of severe weather events like heat waves and storms.”

But VCAT, in its wisdom, and perhaps spurred on by the recent shift in the political wind, has chosen to overrule these concerns, as well as the decision of the EPA, and endorse an increase in capacity of the Dual Gas project to 600MWe, subject to conditions. The Summary of the VCAT decision says that the Tribunal found that the “EPA has misapplied the principles of environmental protection and best practice under the SEPP(AQM) in seeking to halve the capacity of the Dual Gas project. The EPA approach still leads to the project, if considered alone, resulting in a material nett increase in greenhouse gas emissions, with no certainty that it will displace or replace higher GEI electricity generators.” It also found that “the Dual Gas project complies with the requirement for ‘best practice’ having regard to the definition of that term in the SEPP(AQM) and comparable industry activity.” And it noted that “‘Best practice’ does not require a comparison with all other type of electricity generation, such that the outcome would only ever favour the lowest greenhouse gas emitting form of generation.” Heaven forbid.

The DEA’s Dr Kayak did point out, however, that the VCAT Decision upheld conditions for sulphur dioxide capture and noise attenuation, “despite” the cost of the former and “the relatively minor impact demonstrated through the modelling.” Dr Kayak described this today as a “small victory” in a decision the health group otherwise found “bitterly disappointing.” In an interview with RenewEconomy, Dr Kayak said the organisation “feels strongly that 2012 is not the year to be approving the construction of new coal plants.” She said the DEA believes there are alternatives for stationary energy generation that would have “much less of an impact on the health of the local and global community.”

Dyesol investors stump up

ASX-listed Dyesol Limited has announced that it has raised $5 million from its recent share purchase plan and supplementary placement. The transaction, partly underwritten by Octa Phillip Securities for a total of $3 million, saw the issue of approximately 27.78 million shares, raising $3.9 million from regular shareholders, and $1.1 million in shares at 18 cents a share from investors comprised mainly of existing “sophisticated” shareholders. Dyesol Chairman Richard Caldwell said the company was gratified by the strong financial support from shareholders and looked forward to reporting on exciting developments in its world-class partner projects in the coming weeks and months.

Already over the past month, Dyesol has been featuring on our pages regularly with updates on its progress in its new generation Dye Solar Cell window technology, including its largest yet assembly of DSC laminated glass panels, and progress in the effort to use solar windows to cut building energy use. DSC is a third generation, biomimetic nanotechnology PV technology enabling metal, glass and polymeric based products to generate clean electricity and improve energy efficiency. Dyseol says the special advantages of its DSC technology is good performance in shade, haze/pollution, vertical installation, and in “real world solar conditions,” such as at sunrise and sunset.

Notes for carbon farmers

More help for those wishing to take part in the federal government’s Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI), with the publication of a new handbook, released Thursday by the Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency Mark Dreyfus. Speaking at a farmers’ forum in Casino, NSW, Dreyfus said The Carbon Farming Initiative Handbook would be a great resource, that would set out how farmers and landholders could improve sustainability practices while generating carbon credits for sale on domestic and international markets. The CFI, which opened for business last December, includes several approved methodologies – including reducing methane in piggeries, flaring landfill gas, planting native tree species and reducing pollution from savanna fires – with a number of other methodologies (developed by the CSIRO and other research bodies) in the approval pipeline; including dairy cattle food supplementation, enhanced efficiency fertilisers, manure management and soil carbon. The Gillard Government has pledged to invest $1.7 billion dollars of carbon price revenue to support the CFI and other programs over the next  six years, to improve productivity, sustainability and profitability.

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