AUSTRALIA: Campaign to Shut ‘Dirtiest’ Power Station on Verge of Victory

Posted on 18 November 2010 by admin

Protestors call for the entire Hazelwood power station to be shut down. Credit:Stephen de Tarczynski/IPS.

By Stephen de Tarczynski

MELBOURNE, Australia, Nov 18, 2010 (IPS/TerraViva) – Environmentalists here are on the verge of a significant victory in their efforts to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas pollution, as the Victorian state government negotiates with the owner of the country’s “dirtiest power station” to shut down the coal-fired facility.

Cam Walker, spokesman of the green group Friends of the Earth, says that it has been “a great victory…in that we’ve moved them in a few short years from a position of extending the lease, almost indefinitely, to a situation where the (Victorian) Premier is now saying there will be a staged closure of the plant.”

The 1600-megawatt Hazelwood power station, located 150 kilometres east of the state capital, Melbourne, produces up to a quarter of Victoria state’s electricity requirements.

An information war kicked off between environmentalists and the plant’s owner, International Power, following a 2005 report by conservation group World Wildlife Fund that ranked Hazelwood the largest carbon dioxide-emitting power station in the industrialised world.

Campaigners now say that Hazelwood is Australia’s “dirtiest” power plant, producing in excess of 16 million tonnes of greenhouse gas pollution each year. Additionally, they argue the plant is a massive user of water – some 27 billion litres per year – and is the country’s single biggest emitter of dioxin.

The campaigners say that Hazelwood, first commissioned in 1959, has become outdated and needs to be replaced with renewable energy technology.

International Power, for its part, argues that the WWF study was “highly biased” and that “Hazelwood is well down the list of the world’s CO2 emitting power plants.” It also rejects claims that the plant is the most polluting in Australia.

The company, whose global operations outside Australia include power plants in Pakistan, Thailand and Indonesia in addition to interests in North America, Europe and the Middle East, argues that Hazelwood’s actual water usage is less than half of that claimed by environmentalists and also denies that the plant emits dangerous pollutants.

International Power purchased the previously state-owned Hazelwood for 2.35 billion Australian dollars (2.3 billion U.S. dollars) in 1996 with a 40-year life. The company admits that the plant releases large volumes of carbon dioxide – 13 percent of Victoria’s emissions, equating to three percent of Australia’s total – but it dismisses claims by green groups that Hazelwood was due to close in 2005 and was only saved by an extension to its lease.

Instead, the company points to a government-approved environmental impacts statement which, in 2005, allowed International Power to move a road and the course of a river in order to access brown coal reserves at Hazelwood in return for a 445-million tonne cap on the plant’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

But with the Victorian government now in preliminary negotiations with Hazelwood’s owner to shut down a quarter of the plant by 2014 as part of a process to close the entire power station in stages, environmentalists are on the verge of a big win.

Walker told IPS that he is surprised at the campaign’s seemingly rapid growth. “Just over a year ago, I really think this wasn’t on the agenda of the state government and they have come a very long way,” he says.

The Victorian government, led by Premier John Brumby, has committed to reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent, based on 2000 emission levels, over the next decade.

While Brumby has sought federal financial backing in order to compensate International Power for closing Hazelwood, the Premier says that his government will act “on our own” if no assistance is forthcoming.

International Power also appears ready to step back from its investment. The company submitted a plan to the federal government in 2008 in which it outlined a phased closure of Australia’s older coal-fired power stations over a 10-year period “in return for a tariff that reflected the market value of the asset and reflected the equity invested by the owners.”

Company spokesman Trevor Rowe says that “nothing has changed” in International Power’s position since this submission was made.

While media reports here have suggested that the payout to International Power will be hundreds of millions of dollars, Rowe refused to discuss with IPS the amount of compensation that the company is seeking.

Regardless of the dollar amount that is ultimately paid to International Power, environmentalists are keen to make the most of the situation.

“It would represent the first coal-fired power generation that’s been turned off in Australia for climate change reasons, so it would be a significant step forward,” says Mark Wakeham of Environment Victoria, one of a host of green non-governmental organisations campaigning for the closure of Hazelwood.

Wakeham, who was involved in early protests against the power station in 2005, has seen the campaign grow from actions by local campaigners and environmental groups to a movement that receives considerable media coverage on the back of widespread community concern about Australia’s greenhouse gas pollution.

“I think the Hazelwood campaign has very effectively told a clear story about what we need to do if we’re going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also that it’s possible to do so in a very quick period of time,” he says.

The key to the campaign’s hitherto success has clearly been its ability to result in tangible outcomes.

“For all the talk on climate change over the last ten years, we haven’t had governments taking action to stop polluters polluting. Until that happens, emissions aren’t going to actually fall,” says Wakeham. (END)

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