ALTHOUGH the state government has yet to decide on Esso Australia’s bid to build an ethane gas-fired power plant, the company has already bought and is storing the necessary equipment at its Hastings plant.
The presence of the three Solar 10 generators and ancillary equipment was revealed during a tour of the site by members of a planning panel appointed to review Esso’s power generation application.
Save Westernport spokesperson Julia Stockigt said the panel chairperson “made it very clear that Esso’s decision to purchase equipment before the project’s assessment would not sway their decision or influence their recommendation to [then] Planning Minister Lizzie Blandthorn”.
Carrum MP Sonya Kilkennywas appointed planning minister on Monday.
The panel hearings ended on 24 November, two days before the re-election of the Labor state government.
Save Westernport says the project, if approved, will be the first new gas-powered generation plant in Victoria in more than a decade and the first to use ethane in the world as the fuel source.
“Esso cannot and will not commence construction and installation before it has received a planning permit,” the company’s communications and media adviser public and government affairs, Travis Parnaby said.
“This is a critical [$120 million] project because of the significant environmental benefits, as well as the community benefits from reduced light and noise associated with the flaring.”
Parnaby said Esso had “chosen to pre-invest” in the generators because of the uncertainty of international supply chains and “to ensure we can have this project online as soon as possible to the benefit of the broader Hastings community”.
“The units were delivered to our site in June and have remained non-operational and unopened in their delivery packaging until we receive a planning permit to proceed.”
In June, Mornington Peninsula Shire Council’s planning services committee voted to oppose Esso’s plan and called on the state government to investigate health risks and environmental impacts 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 22/6/22). Less than three months later the shire decided against opposing Environment Protection Authority permits approving Esso’s plan (“EPA go ahead to Esso power plan” The News 5/9/22).
Esso also had Liberal party backing with its Hastings candidate Briony Hutton predicting it could “create 150 jobs and reduce greenhouse gases”. Fellow Liberal Flinders MP Zoe McKenzie said: “We should look at all avenues for cheaper and more reliable electricity on the peninsula.”
Hutton previously worked for the business lobby group Committee for Mornington Peninsula where McKenzie was a board member. Former Labor staffer and candidate for Flinders in 2019, Joshua Sinclair, is CEO.
Save Westernport says the state government should “show leadership on climate action in Western Port” by refusing Esso’s application.
“How can this power station be considered for approval, in the midst of the climate emergency, and the powerful targets and strategies set by the current Victorian government for emissions reductions and power generation through renewables?” Stockigt said. “It is not needed; it is a throwback to the past that poses significant impacts in terms of increased emissions to the Mornington Peninsula and the environment of Western Port, which is internationally recognised as a Ramsar wetland.”
Save Westernport says it has been made aware of the limitations of the planning process through its participation before the planning panel but says “that does not mean such developments should be approved, based on this narrow interpretation of the law”.
“What sort of confidence can the public have that climate change is being treated seriously, when such outdated fossil fuel developments can still be considered for approval?”
Save Westernport estimates that at current wholesale prices Esso’s electricity generation project “would also generate large profits of between $29 and $30 million dollars a year”.
“The generators would operate 24 hours a day for the next 10 years [and] increase greenhouse gas emissions on the peninsula by six to 10 per cent, according to … Esso’s application.”