Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Court action clouds new power plant

Herald Sun
11 June 2011, Page: 30

CONSTRUCTION of a new brown coal and gas power plant for Victoria could be on hold for a year as environment groups launch legal action. The Environment Protection Authority last month allowed HRL Dual Gas to go ahead with its dual brown coal and gas demonstration plant at Morwell in the Latrobe Valley. The plant was granted partial approval for a 300 MW plant, not the 600 MW plant HRL had proposed.

EPA chief executive John Merritt said the project would produce electricity with a 30% improvement on current greenhouse gas emissions from coalfired power stations, a "significantly better environmental outcome than other plants". The Environment Defenders Office launched an appeal against the EPA decision at VCAT on Friday, on behalf of Environment Victoria and climate action group Locals Into Victoria's Environment. They argue that the plant does not meet best practice standards for electricity generation because it was compared with other coal fired power stations, rather than cleaner technologies.

The challenge also argues that approval of the plant is inconsistent with state and federal environmental policies, including a Victorian Government target to reduce emissions by 20% by 2020. Environment Defenders Office lawyer Felicity Millner said the legal process could take up to a year, during which time construction of the plant could not go ahead. Ms Millner said the case was an important test of how well the law was protecting the environment in regard to climate change.

"There is no judicial precedent in relation to how the EPA should approach best practice, whether it should compare it against brown coal or all forms of electricity generation", she said. "There is also nothing saying how much weight the EPA has to give to state and federal policies on climate change when they are making their decision. "The Act is directed at pollution we were concerned about 40 years ago, it's not really well equipped, I don't think, to deal with issues like climate change".

Environment Victoria campaign director Mark Wakeham said the law had not caught up with the 21st century and the plant should be rejected. At the time of the plant's approval, HRL signalled a possible appeal, issuing a written statement that it had concerns with the EPA's 300 MW alternative. HRL did not return calls yesterday and the EPA declined to comment.