Hazelwood owner told to shut Italian coal plant blamed for deaths

Hazelwood owner told to shut Italian coal plant blamed for deaths

By on 12 March 2014
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A fossil-fuelled power plant in Italy’s north – part owned by GDF Suez, the ultimate owner of Victoria’s Hazelwood brown coal generator – has been ordered to shut down two of its coal-fired generation units after a court ruled they were responsible for hundreds of human deaths and thousands of cases of heart and lung disease.

Italian news site Rai News reported on Tuesday that a judge directed police to take control of the Vado Ligure plant in the northern district of Savona, after finding in favor of prosecutors in the case.

Francantonio Granero, Savona’s chief prosecutor, had argued that emissions from the plant, owned by Tirreno Power, were responsible for more than 400 premature deaths between 2000 and 2007, and 2,000 cases of heart and lung disease.

Tirreno Power, which is 50 per cent owned by French energy giant GDF Suez, called the study on the plant’s health effects “biased” in a statement to United Press International last month.

The Vado Ligure plant in northern Italy consists of a combined-cycle unit powered by natural gas with a capacity of 800 megawatts and two coal-fired units, each with a capacity of 330 MW that date back to 1971.

“They have shut down the two coal units, while the combined-cycle one is not affected by the measure,” a spokesman for Tirreno Power told Reuters on Tuesday, adding the ruling seemed to be related to a violation of environmental requirements. “We do not understand the rational for this decision.”

The ruling could provide a timely heads up for GDF Suez, though, a subsidiary of which also owns a majority stake in, and operates, the Hazelwood coal plant and mine in Victoria’s La Trobe Valley, where a month-long fire has now become the subject of an independent inquiry.

The inquiry will investigate how the blaze started, the emergency response and whether the regulatory requirements for the mine were stringent enough. Health and environmental responses will also be investigated, although the terms of reference have not yet been finalised.

In the nearby La Trobe Valley community of Morwell, where residents have been badly affected by smoke and coal dust from the fire, the local Council has been given a $50,000 state government grant towards a recovery program, which it has kicked off by purchasing 24 special vacuum cleaners capable of filtering fine particles, as well as air-purifiers.

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