Contributed by Joe Montero
Environmental groups are up in arms over the sale and ongoing operation of the coal fired 1,320-megawatt Vales Point power station at Vales Point in New South Wales’s Hunter region. It has been sold to Sev.en, a company owned by Czech billionaire Pavel Tykač, and which already has a presence in Australia, holding interests in Queensland’s Millmerran and Callide power stations.
Opponents of Vales point charge that the power station was sold for a mere giveaway $1 million in 2015 to Delta, owned by Trevor St Baker and Brian Flannery. The fact that it was valued at $722 million two years later, shows the extent to which it was undervalued, and this gives rise to speculation about corruption. St Baker once stood as a National Party candidate. There is a question mark over his political connections.
Power station on the edge of Lake Macquarie
The two owners are reported to have pocketed $130 million in dividends over three years to 2022. Now they have resold the power station for $200 million. The margin on the small initial investment, and in such a short time, is mind blowing.
There is an odour of corruption over this whole affair. And the taxpayer has paid a large part of the price.
Delta owners, Trevor St Baker and Brian Flannery, have walked away with a fortune. They are also said to have pocketed $130 million of dividends from its activities over the three years to 2022. St Baker is a former National Party candidate; this leads to questions about political connections.
But what has the environmental groups most incensed is the intention of Sev.en to keep the aging plant operating past the supposed closure date of 2029, with the benefit of an exemption from the state’s pollution laws, and government funding of legal costs face by the company.
The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is reported to have briefed environment minister James Griffin of concerns about these matters.
Despite the exemption, Delta was fined $30,000 in 2020 over contaminated material and the handling of asbestos, which amounted to unlawfully using the premises as a waste facility.
Vales Point happens to be on the bank of the environmentally sensitive and tourist popular Lake Macquarie.
Sunset over Lake Macquarie featuring the Vales Point Power station in the background
The National Pollutant Inventory data (2018-19) showed Vales Point to be one of the biggest polluters in the country, scoring an alarming increase of 3000 percent of emissions since 2012-13.
Environment Justice Australia and the Nature Conservation Council are asking the state government to come clean about the exemptions that were granted in December last year. It means that the operator, including the new owner, is permitted to release more nitrogen dioxide into the atmosphere.
Environmental Justice Australia solicitor Jocelyn McGarity said there were “serious concerns” the licence conditions were “unlawful” and that the plant should not be allowed to operate beyond 2029.
“If Vales Point power station is allowed to operate beyond 2029, we know it will have continued serious consequences for the health of the community. It’s also unknown how the sale will impact the rehabilitation responsibilities for the power station ash dumps,” she said.”
The EPA says it will soon table a report on the power station. But there remain questions over government generosity, which violates its own stated policy, and a failure to meet commitments on shifting to clean energy.