Thursday, December 8, 2011

Alcoa Anglesea Coal Mine 50 year lease extension approved by Victorian Government

Anglesea residents presented a petition containing 850 signatures to State parliament on November 23, 2011 calling for an independent study into health impacts of the Alcoa coal mine and power plant, according to a report in the Geelong Advertiser.

In stark contrast to the Government's draconian wind power planning regulations allowing residents a veto if they live within 2km of a proposed wind turbine, approval was granted by the Baillieu Government in late October 2011 to extend the lease for 50 years on the Alcoa Anglesea coal mine which supplies coal to the Anglesea power station for the Alcoa smelter at Port Henry. Residents were shocked by Baillieu coal mine renewal, with Friends of the Earth declaring the decision Ted Baillieu’s worst environmental decision yet. Friends of the Earth claim there are abundant renewable energy options for the Surf Coast and Bellarine Peninsula. Indeed, on November 30 conditional funding of $5million was announced from the Victorian Government to BioPower Systems (BPS) to build a 250kW bioWAVE ocean wave energy demonstration system at a grid-connected site near Port Fairy, Victoria.

Greens Senator for Victoria Dr Richard Di Natale said in a joint media release with Greens State MLC Greg Barber (25/10/2011) "As the country begins to build its clean energy future, now is the worst time to lock in 50 more years of burning coal, said Senator Di Natale. "What the Victorian government should have done is plan an exit strategy to wean Victoria off coal on a much shorter time frame."

Greg Barber added "In less than a year the 'Pollution' party have shut down Victoria's wind industry, gutted the solar industry and have now locked us in for 50 more years of burning coal. The government has not won any improvements in environmental or emissions standards from this new agreement. All it has done is surrender more of the Anglesea heathland and get only 3 pence (or 2.46 cents) per tonne return in royalties. Latrobe Valley companies pay around 50 cents per tonne."

"The $13.94 million bond for rehabilitation of the site is completely inadequate. The Anglesea healthland is some of the most bio-diverse land in the world and once it has been destroyed it can never be fully rehabilitated." said Greg Barber.

If the same planning conditions for wind development were applied to the coal mine lease extension, it would never pass approval. The coal mine and power station is 500metres from the town, only one kilometre from the local primary school and only a few hundred metres from houses. The health risks from mining and burning coal are well documented - see article in the September 2011 Medical Journal of Australia - The mining and burning of coal: effects on
health and the environment (PDF)

According to the Greens, Alcoa enjoys a special status with it's own legislation. Victorian tax payers are being used to subsidise a multinational corporation making profits from coal mining and smelting. According to the Greens the perks given to Alcoa include:

  • A royalty rate to the state government of 3 pence (or 2.46 cents) per tonne that will never adjust for inflation. LaTrobe Valley companies pay royalties of around 50 cents per tonne.
  • Complete exemption from Freedom of Information Laws.
  • Energy supply subsidies that Treasurer Kim Wells estimated would cost the state of Victoria up to $800 million next financial year. We don’t know precise figures because Alcoa is exempt from freedom of information laws.
  • A right to dispose of their mining waste in the Anglesea river, and even if future studies show Alcoa’s chemical waste pool is responsible for the recent death of fish and aquatic plants, they will have no liability.
  • The conditions placed on their waste disposal licence for the toxic chemical boron have been “To be confirmed” for many years.
  • Avoid any publicly accountable environmental impact assessment under the state or federal laws.
  • No requirement to pay royalties for disposal of tailings, unlike all other Victorian mining operations.

Update February 9, 2012: Alcoa to review Pont Henry smelter

Alcoa have announced a review of the future of Point Henry Smelter near Anglesea in a press release to the Australian Stock Exchange. The smelter at Point Henry has been operating for 49 years and employs about 600 people. Alcoa also has an aluminium plant at Portland which employs a similar number of people and is not under review. Read more...

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