On May 22, Friends of the Earth visited Anglesea for the sixth leg of the RET Road Trip.
The seaside town of Anglesea is best known for its surf and summer vacations. What’s lesser known is that Anglesea is home to an open-cut brown coal mine and an ageing coal power plant.
We headed to Anglesea to speak with an emerging community campaign to ‘shut it down’ and find out about their vision for Australia’s energy future—a future shaped by the outcome of the Warburton Review of the Renewable Energy Target
As you’ll see, the case of the Anglesea demonstrates the special treatment given to the incumbent fossil fuel generators in energy decision making. The case offers a useful counterpoint to consider while Dick Warburton undertakes his review of the RET. It also serves as another example of the ideological commitment members of Coalition governments have to fossil fuels.
In 2010, a group of residents concerned about the public health risks associated with coal established Surf Coast Air Action. The group is building support within the community to have the coal plant retired and the mine remediated.
The Alcoa-owned coal plant emits three-times more Sulphur Dioxide (a respiratory irritant) than the notoriously polluting Hazelwood power station in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, despite Hazelwood producing 10 times the electricity output of Anglesea.
The power plant operates in just 550 metres from homes and 1.2 kilometres from a primary school.
The latest phase of the campaign was kicked off late last year when plant owner, Alcoa, submitted an application to the Victorian Essential Services Commission for a license to generate electricity. In other words: a licence to dispatch brown electricity to the grid.
With Alcoa announcing its decision to close the Point Henry smelter, it became clear that the generation licence would pave the way for Alcoa to sell the plant as a stand-alone generator.
“With the Point Henry smelter closing in a few months, there’s no need or social license for this polluting coal power plant to continue operating,” said Anglesea resident Regina Gleeson.
Geelong-based Senator Richard DiNatale (Australian Greens), a doctor and public health specialist, also joined the RET Road Trip event.
“There is no question that air pollution from the mining, transport and combustion of coal can be very harmful,” Senator DiNatale told the gathering.
“Transitioning towards clean energy isn’t just about protecting the health of our environment; it’s important for protecting the health of our communities.”
The first discussion point would become clear within minutes of concluding the RET Road Trip event. An email from the Victorian Essential Service Commission stated:
Thank you for your submission in relation to the above matter. It has been carefully considered in reaching a decision.
At its meeting of 14 May 2014 the Essential Services Commission approved the application from Alcoa of Australia Ltd (ABN 93 004 879 298) for a licence to generate electricity at the Anglesea Power Station. The licence is granted on an ongoing basis.
The Essential Services Commission’s decision to grant Alcoa a licence to pollute was a kick in the guts for the members of Surf Coast Air Action. The group issued a press statement condemning the ESC’s decision and calling on the Victorian government to intervene.
“The Essential Services Commissions’ decision is illegitimate. Those responsible for this decision never visited Anglesea. No effort has been made to meet with us and understand our concerns,” said Regina Gleeson.
Surf Coast Air Action’s call for the Victorian Energy Minister Russell Northe to void the license until community consultation has been conducted fell on deaf ears.
Minister Northe ignored the question of public health and touted the supposed consumer benefits when stating support for the Essential Services Commission’s decision. Premier Denis Napthine was indifferent. In an ABC interview, the Premier referred to the licence approval as merely an “administrative decision” which he “wasn’t even aware had been made.”
Compare and contrast Victorian Premier and energy minister’s response to the Alcoal power plant to the Warburton Renewable Energy Target review and the special treatment given to fossil fuels is apparent. In Australia, politicians of the highest level can be blasé about coal generation on one hand, while insisting forensic scrutiny is applied to renewable energy policies on the other.
So, what are the implications of the Essential Services Commission’s decision for the concerned residents of Anglesea?
The commission’s approval of the generation licence will inflate the value of the coal generator and improve the prospects for sale. The community are now paying close attention to the Warburton Review of the Renewable Energy Target—the outcome of which will affect the ‘attractiveness’ of the old clunker.
If the 41 terrawatt hour Renewable Energy Target remains intact, purchasing an aging coal plant when there’s (1) an oversupply of fossil generation, (2) falling electricity demand, and (3) growing contributions from renewable energy, is highly questionable.
The next stop of the RET Road Trip is the affluent bayside suburb of Brighton in the electorate of cabinet minister Andrew Robb.
NOTE: Mr Warburton was invited to attend the 11-stop fact-finding mission to help inform his review of the renewable energy policy. Mr Warburton refused our invite. Friends of the Earth will meet Mr Warburton and panel members in Melbourne on Friday May 30.
Source: Yes 2 Renewables. Reproduced with permission.