VICTORIA’S Environment Protection Authority has given Esso Australia the go ahead to generate power from ethane gas at its Hastings fractionation plant.
The company is now awaiting a decision on two planning permits by the Department for Environment, Land, Water and Planning.
Mornington Peninsula Shire which has previously opposed the plan last week decided against objection to the EPA’s issuing of a permit but told CEO John Baker to provide updates on objections it had made to the DELWP planning permits.
The planning permits being considered by DELWP are for buildings to house the generators and for land clearing.
In June, councillors voted 6:3 to oppose Esso’s plan despite a 13-page officer’s report which stated, “the proposal’s climate change impacts are acceptable” (“Shire ‘no’ to Esso’s bid for power” The News 27/6/22).
Esso says the generators powered by ethane gas, a by-product of its liquid petroleum gas manufacturing process at Long Island, are an alternative to burning the gas (flaring off).
It says it will generate enough electricity to power 35,000 household a year while increasing the peninsula’s greenhouse gas emissions by six per cent a year.
In March, the EPA said it would assess Esso’s application based on the potential impacts to the local environment and community, including noise, water and air quality as well as determining what ongoing monitoring would be required to ensure compliance with permit conditions if granted.
The shire’s closed meeting was held just weeks after council adopted a public transparency policy setting out its “commitment to openness and transparency in decision-making processes”.
“Being open, honest, transparent and accountable with our community is the foundation of democracy and our organisation,” the mayor Cr Anthony Marsh was quoted as saying in a 16 August news release.
Cr David Gill said he had voted to appeal the EPA decision at last week’s closed meeting, but other councillors’ votes would “remain secret unless each councillor wishes to reveal their own vote”.
Gill said the Planning Minister Lizzie Blandthorn should order an environmental effects statement into Esso’s power plan.
Dale Stohr, a former member of the Save Westernport committee, said it was disappointing that council met behind closed doors to discuss the EPA’s approval of Esso’s plan.
“Residents are in the dark on what was discussed about the EPA Victoria development licence approval for Esso, possible VCAT appeal options and how each councillor voted,” he said.
Stohr said had considered appealing against the EPA decision to the Victorian Civil Administrative Tribunal but had been deterred after finding out the “limited reasons” that could be applied.
“At least EPA Victoria set some strict conditions on noise pollution that Esso will need to invest money in – otherwise their ethane gas turbines will be heard at Hastings foreshore reserve,” he said.
The Liberal Party candidate for Hastings, Briony Hutton, said Esso’s ethane to electricity proposal could create 150 jobs and reduce greenhouse gases.
“Esso’s proposed ethane power generation plant is a case in point of Victoria’s transition to a renewable energy mix, using innovative ethane to electricity generation technology, capable of being powered by hydrogen into the future,” she said.
Hutton, a former executive officer of the business lobby group Committee for Mornington Peninsula, said she had a background in environmental science and was “supportive of this job-creating proposal to capture emissions and generate electricity to power Victorian homes and businesses”.
A request for comment from Labor’s candidate for Hastings, shire councillor Paul Mercurio, resulted in the following response from Water and Regional Development Minister Harriet Shing: “I understand there are many in the community who are concerned about this proposal and want to know more about the potential impacts.
“I don’t think we should rush to any decisions about it.”
Flinders MP Zoe McKenzie, a former director of the Committee for Mornington Peninsula, said: ““We should look at all avenues for cheaper and more reliable electricity on the Peninsula.”