DELTA Electricity has more than 80 hectares of land on the southern section of its Vales Point power station holdings that it describes as “capped and rehabilitated”.
The land is the power station’s ash dam area, where the ash waste from operations is stored. It includes heavy metals. There is growing controversy across Australia about the future of power station ash dams as they close, sometimes abruptly as in South Australia and Victoria, or face imminent closure, as is the case with the Hunter’s Liddell power station in 2022.
They are a potential environmental hazard. In Port Augusta the closure of the Northern power station in 2016 left the city dealing with a 220-hectare ash dam. Earlier this year capping was breached and wild winds blew power station ash across the city.
At Vales Point there is a more practical reason constraining what can happen with its ash dam area, rehabilitated or not. A zoning restricts any future development to that which can be construed as energy-generating.
Delta Electricity’s proposal for a 45 megawatt solar farm that it says could power up to 15,000 homes is a sensible option for the future, as long as the considerable environmental issues associated with the site are raised, considered and addressed.
Delta owner – the aptly named Sunset Power International – has looked forward like other energy providers in this country and registered that the Paris agreement is real, will have impacts whether Australian politicians want to recognise that or not, and has committed to solar energy.
It is to be applauded for that.
As Total Environment Centre executive director Jeff Angel noted: “It’s another big signal that old coal-fired power stations and the utility owners are changing for the better.”
It comes hot on the heels of AGL Macquarie’s strong commitment to solar and wind as the “most economic options” to replace coal-fired power at Liddell.
Of course there are competing realities in this equation. We cannot ignore industries like Tomago Aluminium that say renewables cannot supply the baseload power they need to operate. We also cannot ignore that the Paris agreement will change everything, and sooner than we think. It has already changed how lenders look at coal. It’s why they won’t finance coal-fired power stations.
Times are changing, faster than we realise.