EnergyAustralia is looking to convert part of its coal-fired Mount Piper Power Station on the New South Wales central tablelands into a purpose-built boiler that would run on waste.
ABC News reported the $60 million project would be the first of its kind in Australia, as non-recyclable materials known as refuse-derived fuel are converted into energy, including plastics, linen and non-recyclable paper.
The power plant reportedly produces 15 per cent of the NSW’s electricity and sources all of its coal from the nearby Springvale Mine.
Mark Collette, energy executive at EnergyAustralia, told ABC News that while the technology was used to generate electricity in the United States and Europe, this project would be a national first.
“It’s a world-class technology. It’s commonplace throughout Europe, and we’re very excited to bring this technology to the central-west,” Mr Collette said.
“The central-west has always focused on new and innovative technologies in the energy arena and we’re continuing that fine tradition with this project.”
Mr Collette said the company would work with recycling management company Re.Group on a feasibility study into the economic viability of the project and its possible impacts.
“We’ll then look at all the things that really matter to us and to residents, so things like the potential environmental impacts, noise, we’ll look at dust, we’ll look at transport,” he said.
“We’ll make sure that we’re comfortable as one of the big residents in the area, that this project works on all those fronts.”
Mr Collette said there was the potential for significant environmental benefits, as materials used in the proposed facility would otherwise go to landfill.
“The refuse-derived fuel and the paper and the other components that it makes up, we actually think of that as a renewable source of energy,” he said.
“It is something that continually gets produced, and then used and produced, because paper is ultimately a renewable resource.
“So when you look at it from that perspective, we’re expecting that it will improve the overall emissions profile of Mount Piper.”
However, environmental group the Colong Foundation told ABC News the proposed project was the wrong step for diversifying sources of power.
Director Keith Muir said he was concerned about the potential impacts of pollution from the site.
“In burning waste, what you’re doing is you’re actually burning a resource, so any sort of strategies that we have for zero-waste gets undermined by this plant,” Mr Muir said.
“There is a big move now in Europe to stop building these sorts of plants and to go towards reusing waste as a resource.
“The air emissions include highly toxic pollutants, and these things are really carcinogenic and you only need tiny amounts in the air to increase cancer risks.”
Mr Muir said the ash from such a plant would also pose a risk to waterways.
“It’ll be emplaced in the Coxs River catchment, part of the drinking water supply [for Sydney],” he said.
“It shouldn’t be in that sort of environment. It should just be ruled out at this feasibility stage.”
The feasibility study, design work and planning applications are expected to take 12 months.
EnergyAustralia said a decision on whether to proceed with the project would be made in 2018, with first power scheduled for 2019.