Win for the region: City

Latrobe City Council has heralded the decision to allow HRL’s proposed dual-gas fired power station to establish at full capacity as a win for the region.

In a decision handed down last Thursday, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal overturned the Environment Protection Authority’s restricted project approval, giving the company the green light to construct a 600 megawatt plant in Morwell.

The EPA had approved a reduced 300 megawatt version of the plant last year, which will “gasify” brown coal to generate power with relatively cleaner black coal equivalent emissions, however VCAT found HRL’s proposal was in line with “best practice” power generation.

In its decision summary, the VCAT tribunal said in allowing an increased works approval an additional condition was imposed, “effectively preventing” the dual gas project from commencing until retirement of equivalent Victorian generation capacity was ‘secured’.

The Federal Government’s contract for closure process intends to secure contracts with existing brown coal power generators by 30 June, to decommission 2000MW of generation capacity by 2020, a process for which Hazelwood, Yallourn and HRL’s Energy Brix are engaged.

Latrobe City Mayor Ed Vermeulen said despite the proposed power plant’s projected operational workforce being limited to around 30, the project would create significant jobs throughout the construction phase.

“Through civil works and auxiliary roles, there will be significant job opportunities there,” Mr Vermeulen said.

While Cr Vermeulen stressed the importance of taking up renewable energy generation options in Gippsland, he said recent moves by the state and federal governments to ensure continued low emission use of the brown coal resource boded well for the future of Latrobe Valley and Gippsland.

The decision has outraged environmental groups, who were challenging the EPA’s decision outright in VCAT, disputing the tribunal’s interpretation of ‘best practice’.

“(We) cannot see how a new coal-fired power station can possibly be seen as ‘best practice’ for the industry sector of electricity generation. There are genuinely clean alternatives on the table and ready to go in Victoria,” Environment Victoria chief executive Kelly O’Shanessy said. Federal Energy and Resources Minister Martin Ferguson announced a six-month extension for HRL to fulfil requirements to receive a $100 million project grant awarded in 2007, including securing private investment.

Environment Victoria, in cooperation with the Environmental Defenders Office are considering recourse options of appeal in the Supreme Court.

A spokesperson for HRL said the company was currently reviewing VCAT’s decision, and would not comment further.