Hydroelectric project just ‘window dressing’

NEW coal exploration licenses in Gippsland have been announced to prospect black coal with a view to establish a solar pumped hydroelectric generation project.

But environmental commentators have called the announcement renewable energy “window dressing” for more black coal mining.

In its statement, Western Australian-based company Mantle Mining said the four coal exploration licenses would allow for continued study for metallurgical black coal in the region to export for steelmaking and a more efficient power station fuel.

The company said this was followed by a long-term view to establish a solar-pumped, hydroelectric generation project utilising Latrobe Valley disused brown coal open cut mines connected to underground storage created by the black coal mining by 2050.

It follows the State Government granting four new coal exploration licenses covering close to 500 kilometres across the Latrobe Valley and South Gippsland last week.

The affected region includes the surrounds of Mirboo North, Callignee, Jeeralang and Carrajung.

Environment Victoria safe climate campaign manager Nicholas Aberle said the company understood people liked renewable energy and do not like coal, and wanted the proposal to sound more attractive.

“This is clearly just a prop for another black coal mine with some renewable energy window dressing,” Dr Aberle said.

“It looks like they’re trying to buy social licence with something they know is unpopular.”

Mirboo North Coal and CSG Free spokeswoman Marg Thomas shared this view, and said the announcement incorrectly annexed all the licenses in the Latrobe Valley when it spread to South Gippsland – a vastly different topography with prime agricultural land.

“Putting it all in the one basket is misleading to shareholders,” Ms Thomas said.

“The community is being duped a little bit into thinking that it’s going to be a renewable and sustainable process.”

The Mirboo North resident of 35 years said the activist group had received many distressed calls since the announcement and had set up a temporary information centre to inform the community about the mining prospectus.

Latrobe Valley Sustainability Group member Dan Caffrey, who mooted pumped hydroelectricity storage facilities for exhausted brown coal mines in the Latrobe Valley earlier this month, said it was good to see the company discussing the potential technology.

However, Mr Caffrey said it would be ineffective to pump water 25 to 30 kilometres to brown coal pits in the Valley.

He said the horizontal distance would lose height advantage to create renewable electricity.

“It’s a big fail on the social licence, a fail on the environment and there could be a big fail on the economics as well,” Mr Caffrey said

Mirboo North Coal and CSG Free is informing residents about the proposal at the Mirboo North Community Shed on Burchell Lane.

Opening hours are Monday and Tuesday 10am to 1pm, Tuesday 5pm to 7pm and Wednesday and Friday from 10am onwards.

Pumped hydroelectricity storage has been used overseas since the 1890s.

It stores energy by pumping water from a lower reservoir to a second reservoir at a higher elevation and passing water through an electricity-generating turbine before returning water to the lower reservoir.