Energy Australia revisits Brayton gas plan

Ken McNally, pictured here in 2008 when the gas fired power station was first proposed,  says any improvements to the road that emerge from the project won't offset concerns about pollution and biodiversity and lifestyle impacts.

Ken McNally, pictured here in 2008 when the gas fired power station was first proposed, says any improvements to the road that emerge from the project won't offset concerns about pollution and biodiversity and lifestyle impacts.

Residents breathed a sigh of relief when Energy Australia pulled the pin on its gas fired power station plans near Marulan in 2012.

The march of renewables and oversupply of electricity undermined its feasibility, the company announced.

Now the $700 million proposal may be back on the boil. This week Energy Australia announced it would review the need for two temporarily halted projects – its 700MW gas fired power plants near Marulan and the 400MW station at Tallawarra, Lake Illawarra. 

It’s the second company to do so in the area. AGL is also reviewing its gas fired power plant at Dalton, which won approval in 2012. The company is asking the State Government for a 12-month extension of the approval while it investigates. The proposal has reignited community angst.

Energy Australia executive Mark Collette said the tightening market, the 2022 closure of the Liddell coal-fired station in the Hunter Valley and this year’s shutdown of the Hazelwood plant sparked his company’s review.

“The projects would be capable of responding quickly to fluctuations in demand and providing secure and affordable supply for large numbers of households and businesses across the state, and nationally,” he told The Post.

The plant at Canyonleigh Road, some 20km northeast of Marulan on the Arthursleigh farm, won approval but a subsequent modification application was withdrawn. The company says approval expires in 2019 but it won’t be making a decision until the federal government gives it confidence to invest through its Clean Energy Target (CET).

“(This) means clarity on energy policy,” Mr Collette said.

“But we don’t have time to spare – perhaps 12 months at most, or we risk Liddell coming out with no or not enough ready replacements.

“That’s why the Finkel recommendations are important; as a package they provide a blueprint for a durable, stable and national approach to energy policy, one which gives the industry confidence to invest.”

The Marulan district plant is designed as a peaking plant. Mr Collette said ideally this and the Tallewarra station would be operating by 2022 but more investigation was needed. 

“It’s early in our assessment of both projects; we’ve got a lot of work to do before we’re in a position to make a decision whether to proceed with either one or both,” he said.

The company will revisit planning assessments completed more than five years ago and decide if new ones are needed. He estimated the development would create hundreds of construction jobs and about 20 during operation.

Mr Collette said the aim was to minimise community and environmental impacts or “avoid them entirely.” He pledged community consultation, saying it could only proceed with that support.

Energy Australia's existing gas fired power station at Tallawarra, near Wollongong. The company is reviewing the need for a second plant at the site. Photo courtesy Energy Australia.

Energy Australia's existing gas fired power station at Tallawarra, near Wollongong. The company is reviewing the need for a second plant at the site. Photo courtesy Energy Australia.

‘Far better options than gas’

Dairy Road landowner of the past 45 years, Ken McNally hopes that happens. Residents last time formed the Dairy Road Community Alliance in response to the plan, which goes back nine years. The group will re-form under a different name.

He told The Post some people were “shocked and horrified” the plant was back on the agenda. Several new residents didn’t know about it at all. Mr McNally himself anticipated the possibility.

“The main concerns are the pollution with particles in the air, noise and the adverse impact on biodiversity,” he said.

More than five years ago the community rallied to protect biodiversity, after the project was first proposed. Many are members of the Great Eastern Ranges group, also incorporating Local Land Services, Greening Australia, Landcare and Councils. It is aimed at protecting flora and fauna and maintaining the river.

Mr McNally argued the company should consider these impacts in its reassessment. However he was sceptical, saying the State Government’s wish for power security would likely override this. 

But he’s also worried about visual amenity with earlier planned 30 to 40 metre high stacks to be visible from his home 2.5km away.

In 2011/12 residents also called for sealing of Canyonleigh Road to handle trucks during construction but resolution wasn’t reached.

“We felt a little shortchanged by that. The whole issue of the road was a prominent concern among the community,” Mr McNally said.

“Subsequent information by a valuer established that property values would rise by $50,000 if the road was sealed but they’d decline by $50,000 if the gas plant went ahead, so we came out about even. But it doesn’t offset concerns about pollution, noise and amenity.”

More than that he believed energy companies should be pursuing renewable sources such as solar and battery storage. A neighbour establishing a an eco-tourism operation was spending $60,000 hooking up her home to solar panels.

“There are far better options than a gas-fired power station,” he said.

“...Solar is becoming more and more the type of energy we expect, so my message to the company is ‘renew your hope’” 

In addition, the community last time around was worried what would happen in the event of a catastrophe at the power station. Consultation was addressing this just before the company put the project on hold. 

 A firm water source for the project was also up in the air and preliminary talks with the council about tapping into the Highland Source pipeline took place. Mr Collette said on Thursday that it was “too early to rule anything in or out” regarding water.

For now, residents are just hoping for a seat at the table.

“I’m hoping the company can pick up on some genuine consultation that had some good results flowing through it, but this can easily be lost if they change the nature of it,” Mr McNally said.

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