Eraring Power Station
Image Credit: Martin7d2 (via flickr)

Origin Energy has been slapped with a fine from the New South Wales Environmental Protection Agency for failing to control ash flows from the country’s largest power station.

Origin Energy was fined $15,000 for ash pollution that was blown from an ash dam on the site of the Eraring Power Station as a result of strong winds. The incident occurred in September last year.

Origin Energy acquired the Eraring Power Station as part of asset sales conducted by the NSW Government in 2013. The 2,880 Megawatt power station is Australia’s largest, but likely to be decommissioned by Origin Energy by the 2030’s as the power station reaches the end of its operating life.

The NSW EPA moved to apply the fine, stating that strong winds were no excuse for pollution flowing from the coal-fired power station.

 “While a strong north westerly wind caused the dust to leave the dam, this could have been avoided,” EPA Director Hunter Karen Marler said.

“Management of ash is so important because it can cause impacts on the environment, including smothering aquatic environments and generating dust pollution.”

Origin Energy will install dust monitoring systems at the Eraring Power Station to better inform their response if a repeat incident occurs in the future.

Environmental Groups criticise size of fine

Environmental groups criticised the size of the fine, saying that it was an insufficient penalty given the risk of pollution and unlikely to drive preventative measures at the power station, describing it as “pitiful”.

“Origin Energy’s failure to safely manage the dangerous dust from its ash dam shows it is more interested in cost-cutting than protecting the health of the community,” said NSW Nature Conservation Council CEO Kate Smolski said in a statement.

“Tougher fines and stronger rules are needed to make these companies clean up their act. $15,000 is such a small fine it does nothing to deter Origin from continuing to put Central Coast residents’ health at risk.”

NSW Greens spokesperson, Jeremy Buckingham MP, cited the fine imposed on Origin in renewing calls for the NSW Government to progress the phase-out of coal generation in the state.

“Premier Gladys Berejiklian should acknowledge that coal-fired power has a limited future and that her government must plan for a swift transition to renewable energy.

“Coal-fired power stations are old and dirty technology that adversely impact on people’s health and the environment and are the number one cause of climate change,” Mr Buckingham said.

Eraring Power Station provides approximately a quarter of NSW’s electricity generation.

The NSW EPA responded to what it said were “multiple calls from members of the public”, with nearby residents complaining of the volume of dust escaping from the site.

The ash is a by-product of the coal combustion process, and usually stored in “ash dams” co-located with the power station.

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