Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Coal protest: activists scale Yallourn power station Cooling Tower

Four days ago two intrepid climate change activists scaled one of the cooling towers at Yallourn coal fired power station in Victoria's La Trobe Valley. In the end they spent 30 hours on the cooling tower, the longest power station occupation of it's kind in Australia, finally coming down voluntarily to be arrested and charged with various offences.

The protest highlighted the enormous multi-million compensation being given by the Australian Government to power operators for the imposition of the carbon tax. The brown coal fired power stations in Victoria's La Trobe valley are some of the dirtiest most carbon emissions polluting power stations in Australia and the world.

Related: Latrobe Valley Coal power and Climate change | Further subsidies for Victorian coal by Victorian and Federal Governments

Yallourn Power Station and it's associated brown coal mine have also been beset with problems this year with the major flooding of the mine which has reduced the operational capacity of the power station. The polluted water from the mine, filled with heavy metals such as mercury, lead, arsenic, and cadmium in suspension, is being pumped directly into the Latrobe River which flows directly into the Gippsland Lakes, an important wetlands area. The pollution impacts fishing, tourism and farming in the region, and the health of people in the area downstream of the mine.

"Yallourn is a dangerous relic that continually poses a threat to local communities and vital ecosystems in the region, whilst making a huge contribution to dangerous changes in our climate. All of this has not stopped the federal government from giving China Light and Power, the owner of Yallourn, $257 million in handouts this financial year dressed up as "compensation" for the carbon tax" said Quit Coal spokesperson and climber Chloe Aldenhoven according to Quit Coal

The action is the first major protest to challenge the 2009 amended critical infrastructure laws. According to Quit Coal, the activists were charged with "trespass on critical infrastructure, affixing objects to critical infrastructure and behaving in a reckless manner that could shutdown critical infrastructure."

The laws were amended by the Brumby Labor Government in an effort to deter protests concerned about catastrophic climate change and government inaction, from undertaking civil disobedience and direct action. Penalties include fines up to $45,000 plus imprisonment.

Caption: Protestors can be seen as a blue dot on the side of the cooling tower camped at sunset

State Energy and Resources Minister Michael O'Brien condemned the protestors in a statement, saying:

"These extremist groups have threatened the generation of electricity on a 35 degree day, when the demand for energy is typically high, and when all Victorians need a reliable supply of electricity," Mr O'Brien said.

"This sadly demonstrates the contempt that these groups hold for ordinary Victorian households, businesses and communities.

"These protest groups don't care if households, businesses, farms, hospitals, schools, and other essential services lose their power supply," Mr O'Brien said.

"This action is also incredibly dangerous for the protestors themselves, and this event will no doubt divert emergency services from other important duties.

"These extreme environmental groups have no respect for mainstream Victorians and we should not be surprised if Victorians have no respect for the views of these groups in the public debate on our energy future."

"These people are acting like dangerous fools. Their views will be dismissed accordingly," Mr O'Brien said.

But the conservative Baillieu state Government has repeatedly failed the Victorian people by consistently acting in opposition to climate action, supporting and subsidising the States's brown coal industry, reducing the solar Feed-in tariff and stifling wind farm development through draconian planning regulations.

Victoria has been going backwards on climate and environmental protection since Baillieu was elected, while many Victorians want the State Government to take action on climate change.

The Minister was quick to label the activists as extremists, but videos released by the two activists reveals their serious concern with the impacts of climate change and the gross lack of action by the Government. Watch the video from youtube of Chloe explaining why she carried out the protest:

A video of Dom on youtube explaining his reasons for protesting is also available.

The recently released CEDEX report shows that electricity demand is falling and some of the generating capacity of the largest polluting coal power stations at Hazelwood, Yallourn and Morwell can be retired. Much more could be done with a pro-active Government encouraging wind farm development and large scalle solar power, as well as a more generous solar feed-in tariff again.


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