A plan by one of the big brown coal generators in the Latrobe Valley to extend the life of its plant is to come under scrutiny from the Victorian Environmental Protection Office, as reports emerge that BHP Billiton is considering re-starting a closed brown coal generator in South Australia.
The EPA on Tuesday said it would carefully examine a proposal by France’s Engie to replace the turbines in the Loy Yang B power station in a move that will likely extend its operating life, increase output and emissions.
Engine owns both the Hazelwood power station, which has the unhappy reputation of being the most polluting power station in the OECD, and Loy Yang B. It is under pressure to close one or both, but is also seeking buyers for the assets.
It had hoped to get automatic approval for the upgrade of the turbines for the 20-year-old , 1,050MW Loy yang B, but the EPA has signalled it will require a “works approval”, meaning it will have to justify its plans to burn more coal and produce more greenhouse gas emissions.
The proposal would mean an extra 400,000 tonnes of coal being burned per annum, resulting in a four per cent increase in carbon emissions. That still fits within the EPA licence, and the Coalition’s Direct Action plan, which allows for significant leeway for generators to pollute above current levels.
Environment Victoria Campaigns Manager Nicholas Aberle welcomed the EPA’s decision to rigorously examine this application, but suggested that Engie urgently needs a plan to burn less coal, not more.
“It’s outrageous that, in 2016, Engie is hatching plans to burn more coal,” Aberle said in a statement. “Engie’s global CEO has said the company will move away from coal, and that dealing with climate change is central to their strategy, but here in Australia they’re proposing to burn more and pollute more. This is completely unacceptable.
“Engie’s Hazelwood power station is the most polluting coal power station in the developed world. It’s impossible to have credibility on climate change while being responsible for such a polluting power station.”
Engie is also the owner of the Pelican Point gas-fired power station in South Australia, which is controversially being considered a “new entrant” in a government tender that appears to designed to provide a subsidy for the 17-year-old facility to continue operating.
As RenewEconomy highlighted on Monday, Pelican Point was withdrawn from service just 11 days before the well-flagged closure of the Northern brown coal generator in Port Augusta, leaving pricing in the state grid in the hands of just two gas generation owners, who exploited their market power when the link to Victoria was down for repairs and gas prices soared.
It has also emerged in a report in The Australian newspaper on Tuesday that BHP Billiton is considering re-starting the Northern power station to secure supplies for its Olympic Dam operations.
Details were scant and BHP did not comment, although it seems extraordinary it would take such a step, as the costs would be high and there is no guarantee there is enough good quality coal to burn.
If it wanted to “secure supply” then it only has to sign a contract with Pelican Point, which would then allow the government tender to go to new technology such as the solar tower power plant with molten salt storage.
US company SolarReserve on Tuesday said it could build six 100MW solar power plants – providing caseload or peaking power – including one at Roxby Downs, but needed a contract with the government to get the first one built.
Another company, Lyon Solar, is also proposing a 100MW solar plant backed by 100MWh of battery storage for Roxby Downs.