Vales Point coal plant gets another five-year emissions exemption

Vales Point Power Station
Vales Point Power Station

The New South Wales environmental regulator has granted the coal-fired Vales Point Power Station on the Central Coast another five-year exemption from state air-quality regulations, according to The Guardian.

Under air-quality regulations, power stations are required to limit their emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx). Since 2012, Vales Point has been granted exemptions every five years that allow it to exceed the current legal limit. Environment groups say the decision will contribute to respiratory illnesses in children in the region.

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The NSW Environment Protection Authority granted its third such exemption to Delta Electricity, the operator of Vales Point. The exemption tightens previous licence conditions but still allows the power station to emit up to 850mg of nitrogen oxides per cubic metre 99 per cent of the time. For 1 per cent of the time it can exceed that and emit up to 980mg a cubic metre.

In addition, Vales Point will be required to install a new air monitoring station at Wyee Point, prepare a NOx emission control feasibility study and a separate study on reducing sulphur oxide emissions, and complete a pollution reduction program by July next year.

“The EPA decision will be a bitter disappointment for the Central Coast community, which had hoped participation in public consultation would result in real change,” Nature Conservation Council of NSW acting chief executive Jacqui Mumford said.

“Instead, the EPA has locked in another five years of respiratory disease for the Central Coast community.”

Mumford said NOx emissions were a known contributor to respiratory illnesses such as asthma, including in children.

However, Delta Electricity secretary Steve Gurney has previously rejected remarks by the Nature Conservation Council and other environmental organisations about air quality as “incorrect and misleading”.

In a statement, the company said the upper limit of what was permitted under its licence had been reduced by one-third and was “120mg/m3 lower than limits in place at newer stations such as Bayswater and Mt Piper”.

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“Delta appreciates the scientific rigour applied by the EPA in the review, which should allay any community concerns regarding local air quality,” the company said.

The EPA said it had listened to community concerns and tightened the NOx limits in the Vales Point licence.

“Air quality in NSW is generally good by world standards and our assessment … shows that operating within these tighter limits will maintain good local air quality,” EPA director of regulatory operations Stephen Beaman said.