EPA says generators safe

The Latrobe Valley environment is unlikely to suffer any detrimental air quality and noise effects of 105 diesel-powered generators located at Energy Brix, Environment Protection Authority Victoria says.

It comes after Australian Energy Market Operator contracted power generator hire company Agrekko to deploy the diesel generators to bolster the state’s power supplies over summer when there could be energy shortfalls.

Speaking at a community consultation event in Morwell on Monday, EPA Victoria manager of development assessments Tim Faragher told community members the EPA had assessed Agrekko’s application in terms of potential air emissions and noise impacts.

“[The EPA] is really confident this won’t present any risk to the community,” he said.

“The generators are really an insurance policy and won’t run for significant periods of time.

“Approval is limited to a total operation time of 20 hours total across the whole summer period and is valid until the end of March… and there must be no operation beyond 10pm at night.”

Mr Faragher said approval for the project was classed under “emergency approval” under a provision “that allows the discharge or emission or a deposit of waste to occur… for the purposes of temporary relief of emergency or community hardship.”

“If one of those purposes is met and it can be demonstrated and confirmed there will be… no long term impact on health or environment, EPA must grant the approval,” he said.

“It meets the criteria of relief from community hardship, in the sense that it is ensuring continued access to essentials.”

Agrekko managing director Australia Pacific George Whyte said Agrekko had consulted environmental specialists, the ERIAS Group, to form a model to monitor noise and emissions on the project.

“As part of our submission for the EPA, for the approval, we’ve taken five years of data over this period of time and we’ve done all the modelling for noise and emissions to ensure it is within the safe perimeters of what is required, and that is for approvals,” he said.

“And also part of our submission, what we need to do is also monitor that.

“So throughout the contract [The ERIAS Group] will be monitoring in strategic positions to ensure that we abide with the conditions required.” 

A public consultation event held in Morwell on Monday night regarding the 105 diesel-powered generators located at Energy Brix over the summer months has drawn mixed reactions from the community.

Latrobe Sustainability Group member Dan Caffrey was satisfied with the information provided at the consultation and said he believed the underlying principals of the project were “very sound” and the application was “entirely reasonable”.

“There is just a 61 per cent chance that they have to turn them on,” he said.

“[AEMO is] just trying to do the right thing by the public and guarantee supply. There is nothing to say we won’t have extreme weather, so they’ve actually got our best interest at heart doing this.

“The fact that it was located at Morwell, it was virtually the only access to the right sized power lines. Hazelwood was too large, they would have built it there if it was suitable.”

Mr Caffrey said the level and timeline of the community consultation could have been improved.

“However, the real message there is that AEMO haven’t been faced with this type of situation before. That could have been better explained to the public, then there would have been less hysteria about it,” he said.

“This is a far preferable method than investing in expensive … permanent fossil fuel infrastructure.”

Community advocate and Community Recovery Committee chair Carolyne Boothman said she was “very disappointed” with the level of community consultation regarding the project.

“The CRC will be contacting the minister directly about the lack of consultation about the whole process,” she said.

“One thing we learned from the mine fire was that community consultation is vital. This appears to have been forgotten.”

Federation University professor Erik Eklund said it was “a shame” there wasn’t earlier planning on the project, as he believed a more sophisticated solution could have been found with more foresight.

“I think Aggreko were very much trying to catch up [on consultation] because they had very late notice from AEMO,” he said.

Dr Eklund said he had attended the community consultation to question whether the operator was aware of the proposed heritage listing of the site and to ensure the operation wouldn’t damage the on-site structures.

Heritage Council has recommended the site be added to the Victorian Heritage Register with an outcome expected to arrive before the New Year.

“From the conversations I had with Aggreko, they were aware of the heritage [proposal] and they reassured me [their] personnel weren’t going into the turbine hall. They were basically just sticking the generators outside of the buildings,” Dr Eklund said.

An Aggreko spokesperson said the company felt the community consultation had “gone well so far”.

“[The consultation] event was the second one to date, and attendees left with a real sense of reassurance that their questions and concerns were adequately addressed,” they said.