• Three appeals were lodged in objection to the Environmental Protection Authority’s (EPA) recommendations and report for the proposed Pilbara Energy Generation Power Station (Project) to be installed and operated by Pilbara Energy (Generation) Pty Ltd.
  • The appeals raised key concerns in relation to the EPA’s assessment of the Project. Specifically, that the Project was not consistent with the objective of the EPA’s greenhouse gas emissions factor guideline (GHG Guideline), and that the EPA failed to adequately consider the impacts of the Project’s predicted emissions.
  • On 22 January 2021, the Minister for the Environment published his appeal determination. Despite acknowledging ‘shortcomings’ in the EPA’s assessment of the Project’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, they were not considered enough to warrant remit of the Project to the EPA for further assessment. Despite the outcome of the appeals, the determination highlights aspects of GHG assessment that should be closely considered for any project with a material GHG emissions profile.

The Project will now proceed to an approval decision under section 45 of the Environmental Protection Act 1986 (WA) (EP Act).

Overview of Project

Pilbara Energy (Generation) Pty Ltd (PEG) proposes to install and operate a gas fired Power Station adjacent to the Solomon iron ore mine in the Pilbara.

The Project will have a maximum capacity of 165MW and is predicted to emit up to 670,666 tCO2-e of scope 1 GHG per year. Over the life of the Project (approx. 40 years), this would amount to 26,826,624 tCO2-e. The emissions profile for the Project triggers greenhouse gas assessment under the GHG Guideline. GHG emissions and air quality were the key environmental factors considered by the EPA in Report 1686 (EPA Report).

The Appeals Convener’s Report

The Appeals Convener’s Report identified four “shortcomings” in the EPA Report, outlined briefly below:

  • Multiple references to the emissions “savings” from the Project, by removal of the North Star Power Station, despite such savings not being determinative in the EPA’s assessment.
  • Failure to account for the proposed additional diesel generation and excess capacity generation at Solomon Power Station associated with the Project (ie the cumulative emissions profile).
  • Acceptance of the Barkers Inlet Power Station as a comparable emissions intensity “benchmark” for the Project, despite Barkers Inlet being significantly larger in size and of an advanced age (ie not objectively comparable).
  • Failure to expressly consider why all residual emissions from the Project should not be offset, as required under the GHG Guideline, while ultimately acknowledging that carbon neutrality is not necessarily required (provided appropriate controls to GHG emissions are applied).

The Minister’s decision

The Minister declined to remit the Project to the EPA for further assessment, however did allow the appeal in part.

The Minister varied the EPA’s recommended conditions to improve transparency in the Greenhouse Gas Management Plan (GHGMP) for the Project. This includes inserting a requirement to submit a revised GHGMP at least once every five years. Further, the Minister has directed that responsibility for approval of the revised GHGMP will rest with the CEO of the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation.

Consistent with the Appeals Convener’s Report and the EPA Report, the Minister acknowledged that the final decision on whether the Project is approved rests with the Minister under section 45 the EP Act.

GHG assessment moving forward

This appeal determination highlights the importance of a robust and fit-for-purpose GHG assessment during environmental impact assessment under Part IV of the EP Act.

Proponents of projects with a material GHG emissions profile should note the increased scrutiny of both the proponent and EPA’s assessment of GHG emissions and take particular care:

  • in the benchmarking exercise, to ensuring other facilities referenced are truly comparable; and
  • if a carbon neutral outcome is not to be reached, ensuring appropriate, leading practice emissions controls are applied pursuant to a GHGMP and that any residual GHG emissions can be objectively demonstrated as being manageable and not significant.

More information

By Melanie Debenham, Partner, and Libby Plajzer, Solicitor, Perth

Melanie Debenham
Melanie Debenham
Partner, Perth
+61 8 9211 7560