A spokesman for EnergyAustralia, which operates the Yallourn power station, said that in 2018 power production from Yallourn was down by about 6 per cent and most emissions that power generators are required to report on were also down. But he did not explain the 82 per cent increase in PM2.5 emissions in the year to 2019.
According to a State of Global Air study released in 2018, exposure to PM2.5 emissions contributed to 4.1 million deaths around the world from heart disease and stroke, lung cancer, chronic lung disease, and respiratory infections in 2016.
Nicola Rivers, the head of research with Environmental Justice Australia, said that it appeared that the only reasons for the extraordinary jump in PM2.5 pollution from Vales Point could be that the reported figures were wrong, or its pollution abatement systems had not been turned on or that they had failed.
She said the jump in emissions from the Yallourn power station appeared to confirm Environmental Justice Australia’s concerns that the station’s electrostatic precipitators – equipment used to capture particulate pollution – were not functioning properly.
Asked if this was the case, EnergyAustralia did not address the question directly, but said in a statement, “The performance of Yallourn power station’s precipitators is monitored, and the equipment subject to routine maintenance as well as third-party independent checks from time to time to identify areas needing attention.”
Environmental Justice Australia has been seeking information about Yallourn’s electrostatic precipitators via a freedom of information request, which is currently the subject of a legal dispute.
Environmental Justice Australia is a public interest legal organisation. Its lawyers act on behalf of people and community organisations to safeguard health and the environment.
The National Pollution Inventory was established by the state and federal governments to monitor pollutants and promote better air quality standards.
“It’s clear it has fallen short of that objective and that strong policy, laws and regulations are required to force coal-fired power stations to clean up their act,” said Ms Rivers.
Vales Point and Yallourn are two of the oldest coal fired power stations in Australia. Due to its age, Vales Point was sold by the NSW government to the energy entrepreneur Trevor St Baker for $1 million in 2015, only to be revalued at $730 million in 2017 after demand increased.
Its operators have sought government grants to help extend its life.
Nick O’Malley is National Environment and Climate Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. He is also a senior writer and a former US correspondent.