Question Time: Eraring Power Station

4th February 2020

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (15:08:39): My question is directed to the Minister for Planning and Public Spaces. Given that the Independent Planning Commission recently approved the expansion of the Eraring Power Station ash dam with a condition for Origin Energy to re?use 80 per cent of all coal ash generated at the site by 2021, what will the Government do to ensure Origin Energy can meet that target?

Mr ROB STOKES (PittwaterMinister for Planning and Public Spaces) (15:09:10): I thank the member for Lake Macquarie for his question. He is an indefatigable advocate for his community and is very vigilant to look at these sorts of applications to ensure that they meet the expectations of his community. As members of this House will well know, Lake Macquarie is a beautiful electorate that displays quite graphically both the benefits and the challenges associated with industrial development. It has a strong manufacturing base and great manufacturing and industrial heritage but it also has some challenges. For example, some of the challenges are perhaps most poignantly illustrated by the Pasminco smelter site, where the consequences of development were not thought about at the time. I certainly appreciate the opportunity to work with the member for Lake Macquarie and with my office in relation to his vigilance in these sorts of matters.

As members of this House would be aware, the Eraring Power Station is one of the largest, if not the largest, in the country. It was expanded less than 10 years ago and has a rate of capacity of almost 3,000 megawatts. There was a modification to the power station made by the operator and proponent, Origin Energy, which made an application in August 2018 to expand its ash dam so that it could continue to produce energy at the power station. The department completed its assessment of the merits of the proposal in early October last year and referred the application to the Independent Planning Commission [IPC] for determination. During its assessment, the IPC carefully balanced the environmental factors with the economic and social considerations associated with the application. Ultimately it approved the project subject to conditions.

The IPC made a swift but carefully considered decision, providing its approval just before Christmas. In under three months the IPC came to a view that the modification application put forward by the applicant was acceptable and approved it. Importantly, in making its decision, the IPC took an existing condition of consent referred to by the member for Lake Macquarie and strengthened it. An existing condition of consent required the preparation and implementation of a long-term ash management strategy with the goal of 80 per cent re?use of ash by December 2021. In its approval, the Independent Planning Commission has strengthened this target to make it a mandatory goal for Origin to reach that 80 per cent re-use or recycling of ash target from the power station by 31 December 2021. It has also required Origin to begin planning for rehabilitation of the land and the ash dam following its scheduled closure in 2032.

As members would be aware, the New South Wales Government recently commissioned the Productivity Commission to undertake a review of the IPC to ensure that its processes are as efficient as possible. This is a great example of how the IPC can make a quick decision that balances positive environmental outcomes with economic and social benefits of development. With regard to implementing the IPC's strengthened condition, it is my expectation that Origin Energy, in agreeing that the 80 per cent target is achievable, will implement this target and exceed it where possible. There are plenty of ways to re-use coal ash and the IPC identifies these in its statement of reasons. For instance, there are innovative new products and technological opportunities under investigation, such as for road base, pavements and precast building materials as well as geopolymers.

In response to the member's question, in the first instance the department will review the applicant's long?term ash management strategy to ensure that its proposed program for reaching the 80 per cent recycling goal is feasible and achievable. Origin Energy must provide annual reports to the department on its progress in achieving this goal, so there will be opportunities to monitor it along the way. These reports must demonstrate progress in re-use and recycling of ash to the satisfaction of the planning secretary. Should the department not be satisfied or have concerns about the progress of recycling coal ash, the department will work with Origin Energy and the community to help achieve the 80 per cent goal within the time frame indicated in the condition. Origin Energy has agreed to this 80 per cent mandatory goal and, in receiving its approval, it is my expectation that Origin will reach it as swiftly as possible. The Government is committed to encouraging greater re?use of resources, which is a great source of manufacturing jobs and is a big part of our plan to facilitate economic transition to more sustainable forms of development and human progress. The IPC's condition is consistent with this objective and it is our expectation that it is met.

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