Even before it started operating Redbank Power Station near Warkworth was involved in a legal battle in the NSW Land and Environment Court (LEC).
That was back in 1993 when an objection by Hunter Environment Lobby to Redbank led to an approval condition requiring mitigation of carbon emissions and implementing a tree planting program.
Redbank began producing coal powered electricity in 2001. In 2014 it ceased operations and was placed in the hands of the receivers Korda Mentha the station has been in care and maintenance ever since.
Now thanks to plans by the current owners of Redbank, Hunter Energy, to convert the power station from purely coal tailings to biomass products for generation those plans too will now be the subject of another LEC hearing.
Singleton Council's Justin Fitzpatrick-Barr, Council's Director Infrastructure and Planning said "Council received a modification application for the approved Redbank Power Station in October 2020 to allow the use of biomass as the fuel source."
"The applicant has lodged a Class 1 Appeal in the Land and Environment Court for the deemed refusal, as the application had not been determined.
"The item is now before the Land and Environment Court after Council resolved at an extraordinary meeting on June, 28 2021 to defend the matter.
"Since the appeal was lodged, the applicant has submitted an amendment to the modification application, which is currently on exhibition until September, 27, 2021."
In May this year Hunter Energy executive officer, John Halkett said the conversion of Redbank to a biomass baseload facility was a major development in the Hunter Valley, with a wide range of economic and environmental benefits.
"These benefits include doing something meaningful and tangible in relation to tackling climate change; utilising wood waste that would otherwise finish up in landfill, and providing much needed base load renewable energy."
"Also, of course, providing jobs and regional business stimulus to support the economy of the Hunter Valley and surrounding areas, he said."
At the time this proposal was strongly supported by Federal member for Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon
The Planning Report on the Modification, now on public exhibition, for Redbank says the only significant change is the use of biomass in addition to coal tailings from the nearby Warkworth mine ( now part of Yancoal's Mt Thorley Warkworth operation).
It states there will be positive environmental change to the disposal of coal ash and biomass ash as permitted under relevant guidelines and regulations. Plus there would be according to the report a reduction from 1,011,320 t CO2- e/annum to 35,465 t CO2-e/annum when biomass rather than coal is used as the fuel source.
The biomass would come from forestry and sawmilling residues from the Hunter and Mid North Coast along with construction timber waste.
Whereas the coal tailing were transported to the power station by a conveyor the biomass will require 70 B-double trucks daily to enter the plant from the Golden Highway.
The original objectors to Redbank, Hunter Environment Lobby, once again strongly oppose any plans to restart the plant using biomass.
Redbank plans to burn 850,000 tonnes of dry woodchips annually sourced from clearfelled NSW public forests, and generating over 2 million tonnes of CO2 each year, the group argues.
"Surprisingly, the modified development application lodged with Singleton Council claims that burning wood produces net zero carbon emissions and is thus renewable energy" says Hunter Environment Lobby.
Jan Davis from Hunter Environment Lobby says that "inquiries suggest that Redbank has never mitigated its carbon emissions and never complied with its legal obligation to offset emissions through tree planting. This is not a net zero emission proposal."
"Impacts of clearing and burning native forests are significant for NSW wildlife, including koalas" says Jan Davis.
"Koalas are already threatened with extinction within 30 years. The proposal is likely to directly result in further clearing of koala habitat, destruction of koala populations, and killing of koalas on roads. Koalas will be at increased extinction risk if the Redbank proposal proceeds."
The group's submission to the proposal will also highlight the adverse impacts of the proposal on air quality in the Hunter Valley, and the significant community cost of over 40,000 additional heavy truck movements a year on NSW roads.