While coal projects once ultimately relied on ministerial approval, NSW Planning changes over recent years vested this power to the independent PAC.
The project was based on introducing open cut and highwall mining into new areas of the Ben Bullen State Forest in between the existing mines, for total production of up to 3.5 million tonnes per annum of thermal coal for up to 21 years.
Privately owned Coalpac submitted environmentally based revisions to the project in July, especially to protect the significant Pagoda rock formations but evidently it was not enough to satisfy NSW’s Planning and Infrastructure Department.
“The department acknowledges that Coalpac has proposed to scale back its initial proposal to limit impacts on significant rock pagodas but even with these changes the mine will have an unacceptable impact on the conservation significance of the area,” it said in a statement two weeks ago.
“The department's assessment found it would be difficult to rehabilitate this bushland back to its original state, given the steep slopes that would be created by the mine after it progressed along the valley floor.
“In the end, this is not the right place for a major open cut coal mine.
“The department has undertaken a balanced assessment, which has carefully considered the economic benefits of the mine against the environmental impacts.”
The department acknowledged that a decision to reject the project could give Centennial Coal a monopoly of supply to Energy Australia’s Mount Piper and Wallerawang power stations.
“ln these circumstances, advice from NSW Treasury indicates that Energy Australia may have to pay around 40% more for its supply of coal to the power stations,” the department said in its assessment report.
“Economic modelling undertaken for Energy Australia indicates that if it has to pay these higher prices, the retail price for electricity in NSW is likely to increase by 4% to 12%.”
The department also made the uncharacteristic step of releasing a map that included images of the area’s unique landmarks and rock formations.
PAC has several projects under assessment.