Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Government foyer occupied to stop new Victorian coal power station



A group of five climate protesters walked into the foyer of the Victorian State Government ministerial offices at 1 Treasury place and locked on to a ladder. Outside the building another 100 protesters gathered. The protest called for the withdrawal of funding for HRL's proposed new coal fired power station in the Latrobe Valley.


The protesters inside refused to leave until the state government agreed to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement and a health impacts study on the project. After four and a half hours the five agreed to leave with three of them in turn meeting with Victoria's Energy Minister, Michael O'Brien.

Shaun Murray who was one of the protesters in the foyer said in a media release: "The so-called 'clean coal' technology being planned for this project still produces as much pollution as a black coal power plant, like those in NSW. If it goes ahead, this new coal fired power plant will produce up to 4 million tonnes of greenhouse pollution every year,"

"Climate change is a serious and urgent threat. It is already killing hundreds of thousands of people every year, and causing the extinction of species. Victoria must move rapidly away from burning dirty brown coal, and shift to proven renewable energy sources like wind and solar power." said Mr Murray.

After the meeting with the Minister Shaun Marray told the ABC "At first he was a bit frustrated but he warmed up," he said, "We were able to have a civilised conversation and at least he's heard our views. He gave us absolutely no commitments and so this is the beginning of a campaign which we're going to win."

Government funding for the project includes $100million from the federal government and $50 million from the Victorian state government.

The Victorian Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to announce its decision on whether to approve the HRL project in the next two months. During lodgement of the works approval the EPA received about 4,000 submissions, all but 13 of them in opposition to the construction of the new power station.

HRL Ltd is a private company that wants to build a 600 Megawatt "Dual Gas Demonstration Project" in Morwell, Victoria. HRL was previously the research division of the Sate Electricity Commission before it was privatised by Jeff Kennett in the mid 1990s.

The plant will convert brown coal into gas to then be burnt. The resulting greenhouse emissions are lower than brown coal but still equivalent to a modern black coal plant. This will increase Victoria's annual greenhouse emissions by up to 4.2 million tonnes of CO2 (or 3%), and if built will lock Victorians into a polluting energy system for another 50 years.

The proposal for the plant specifies that major components would be built in China and shipped to Australia, providing relatively few construction jobs. Once operating, only about 40 permanent jobs would be created for local workers - far fewer jobs than would be created by equivalent renewable energy projects.

Proponents of building new coal based power stations emphasise the need for investment in large scale solar thermal power stations, and expansion of wind farms such as the Beyond Zero Emissions plan for baseload renewable energy.

Spokesperson for the Stop HRL collective Dr Merryn Redenbach said in the media release, "This new coal and gas fired power station will add more dangerous pollutants into the air including mercury, lead and fine particulate matter known to cause cancer and lung damage to children. This plant should not be approved without a full assessment of health impacts on the local community."


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