Saturday, May 28, 2011

How far is 2km? Across the coalmine!

If you stand on Fraser Avenue at the back of Anglesea, you can’t see the coal mine that is a few hundred metres to your north. It’s behind the low coastal scrublands and of course, a big hole in the ground is hard to notice until you stumble right upon it. But it’s undeniably there.

If you live in Anglesea, there might appear to be little you can do about the coal mine and power station. It has been there since 1961, and owner Alcoa is seeking a 50 year extension of it’s original lease and an extension of the mine. We hope that this course is averted.

As Cam Walker noted after spending some time around Anglesea, “most people aren’t too keen on the idea and are certainly grumpy when you explain that if it was a single wind turbine they would have a right of veto, yet the 2,000 residents that live within 2 km of the Alcoa coal mine don’t have this right.”

Anglesea, mine and power station - click to enlarge

The new state government’s declared 2km right of veto would place the nearest potential turbines on the other side of the coal mine, even though there is no health hazard from wind turbines – yet dust from open cut coal mining has well established and serious health hazards.


In the Latrobe Valley, if you lived on the southern side of Morwell, you would be less than 500m from the edge of the coalmine. The 2km buffer zone would see wind located as far away as the (small, but highly polluting) Morwell power station, almost all the way to Hazelwood power station. In this case you would have to go even further than 2km to reach the other side of the mine.

As Environment Victoria have pointed out, the proposed HRL power station is to be built within 2km of hundreds of houses.

If you lived at Newborough or Yallourn North, you would be less than 2km from Yallourn, another old clunker of a polluting brown coal power station. You would have no say in it. Yet you could veto any wind turbines being placed between you and the power station.

And in the big smoke…

If we go further afield than coal mines, or in fact closer to home for suburbanites, there are many similar examples in urban areas.

If you lived on Ross Road in Altona North, you would only be a couple of hundred metres from the Mobil petrochemical refinery across the railway. Yet you could veto any wind farm closer than the pier at Altona Beach, on the other side of the refinery, Cherry Lake and another suburb.

If you live in Hyde St, Yarraville, you are less than a kilometre from the chemical storage tanks at Coode Island that blew up in an enormous fireball in 1991. You could veto any wind farm closer than the Bolte Bridge, almost all the way in to the Docklands precinct.

Across Melbourne’s inner western suburbs, residents are suffering the noise and exhaust emissions of 21,000 semi-trailer trucks spewing cancer-causing diesel exhaust fumes into the air every day. They are also much louder than a wind farm! These trucks use residential streets. It is a relatively new phenomenon: the houses were there long before such large numbers of trucks. Truck numbers really grew in the 1990s with the Western Ring Road and CityLink developments changing traffic flows.

Despite years of protest by local residents in Yarraville and Footscray, the only action taken by government has been a fairly ineffective curfew. The new on-ramp to the Westgate Freeway proposed by the previous ALP state government, which would be a solution for Francis St residents, appears to have been abandoned by the new Liberal government.

Yet if someone wanted to build a wind turbine nearby, residents’ veto could force it to be located all the way across the Westgate bridge (another major carrier of diesel trucks, much closer than 2km to many homes).

Not all of these industrial proximities are being actively protested by residents, but then neither are all wind farm developments. Nor should they. We need to ask the government, why is it that they are so keen to “protect” residents from no-pollution wind turbines, when we have such dire examples of real, indisputably harmful pollution across the state?

In most of these cases, one could object that the industrial areas are well established and in some cases were there first. That’s little consolation to people suffering chronic asthma or other respiratory disease. An extension of the Anglesea coalmine, like the HRL plant, is a new development in any case. Why continue on this path when clean alternatives are available? Saying “Not In My Back Yard” to wind power can too easily translate into a coal mine in someone else’s back yard.

This was cross-posted from Yes To Renewables

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