SPEECH: New fossil fuel power plant at Reeves Plains

Today Mark rose to speak about a new fossil fuel power plant proposed by Alinta at Reeves Plains near Mallala in the state's Mid North. 

I want to speak today about a new fossil fuel power plant proposed by Alinta at Reeves Plains near Mallala in the state's Mid North. The 300-megawatt gas and diesel-fuelled generator was approved by the former planning minister on 16 February, which was one day prior to the commencement of caretaker period in the lead-up to the March state election. A large number of local residents have now signed a petition addressed to the House of Assembly urging reconsideration of the approval of this power station.

Construction of the power plant has not commenced, and Alinta has not yet committed to construction. In fact, in the time-honoured tradition of the fossil fuel industry, they are putting their hand out for public subsidies. I will come back to that later. As members know, the rules around formal petitions to parliament are strict, antiquated and bear absolutely no resemblance to how people in modern society communicate, so it is likely that this petition will fall foul of some technicality or other, which is why I want to honour those residents by putting their concerns on the record in this house today.

In the petition, 170 residents of Reeves Plains and surrounding areas set out their concerns about this power station. They are worried about the proximity to houses, the nearest being 600 metres from the site. That sounds like a long way but, when you have 400,000 litres of diesel fuel stored on site, it is far too close for comfort. Residents are also concerned about noise, air pollution and the devaluation of their homes.

In relation to pollution, the residents are supported by Doctors for the Environment. In their submission to the State Planning Commission, that organisation pointed out that pollutants coming from gas-fired power stations include nitrogen oxides; carbon monoxide; volatile organic compounds; particulates; hazardous air pollutants, including formaldehyde and benzene; and sulphur dioxide. Doctors for the Environment point out that all these are known to be injurious to health, and they draw attention to the fact that 3,000 premature deaths occur in Australia every year as a consequence of poor air quality.

Aside from the petition, a large number of residents also engaged in the public consultation process in November last year. As one of the residents put it to me at the time:

"The residents worry about the lights, noise, air quality, health impacts and devaluation of property. Many residents are on rain water and we worry about what we will be drinking and showering in…
Our human right to clean water and clean air is being taken away from us and I am asking for your help if there is anything we can do about it?"

Back on 31 January, I travelled up to Mallala to support the local residents at the hearing of the State Planning Commission's assessment panel. In my submission, I pointed out a range of considerations, including the residents' concerns but also addressing the elephant in the room by posing the question: why on earth, during unprecedented human-induced climate change, are we supporting or considering brand-new fossil fuel power stations? Again, I will refer to what Doctors for the Environment said in their submission:

"At this time, when global warming is shaping an energy transformation around the world, South Australia is recognised as a leader in renewable energy. To turn to fossil fuel power generation in order to fill a shortfall in capacity is regressive and cannot be justified on health grounds (or economic grounds, given the price of gas). Dispatchability, a key requirement of the Energy Security Board, can be achieved with batteries, concentrated solar thermal with storage and pumped hydro and, together with demand management and higher levels of solar, can provide South Australia with energy which is not only reliable but healthy."

I need to remind members that this is not just a private project by a private company. It was supported by the state government, and it had the benefit of special state government planning processes, which included the final decision being made by the planning minister with no right of appeal by residents or conservation groups.

When it comes to economic viability, in an article in The Australian two weeks ago, under the headline 'Back our power plant, Alinta tells Canberra', we can see that the company is putting its hand out to Canberra for subsidies and handouts. They are not committing to go ahead unless we, the taxpayers, foot the bill. That just adds insult to injury. So I would like to urge this government and the federal government to get behind residents and support their legitimate expectations of living in a clean and healthy environment.