A faulty power station valve allegedly caused a mass fish kill on the NSW Central Coast that could lead to a million-dollar fine for the plant's operator.
The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) on Wednesday said it had started proceedings against Sunset Power International, which trades as Delta Electricity, the operator of the Vales Point coal-fired power station on the shores of Lake Macquarie.
It alleges the company failed to maintain a chlorine dosing plant, resulting in a faulty valve releasing concentrated sodium hypochlorite, commonly known as bleach, into waters leading to Wyee Bay.
The incident led to the deaths of around 15,000 fish, according to advocacy group the Hunter Community Environment Centre.
NSW EPA chief executive Tony Chappel said Delta was expected to maintain a high standard of oversight for the power station given its proximity to Lake Macquarie.
“Our investigation found that Delta could have prevented the fish kill if they had adequate equipment and processes in place," he said.
“We’re pleased that Delta have upgraded their systems and the water quality in the Lake has returned to normal levels."
The EPA said the offence, if proven, carried penalties of up to $1 million.
Delta said it was yet to receive details of the allegations so it was unable to comment on the case, but it took the matter seriously and would consider its response.
Greens energy spokeswoman Abigail Boyd accused the environmental regulator of initially being blase over the incident.
“This fish kill was allowed to happen as a result of a business-friendly regulatory approach," she said, noting that Delta had recently announced plans to keep Vales Point open until 2033.
"The allegations contained in the EPA announcement prove that this is untenable, and that in the sequencing of coal closures that Vales Point would ideally be the first to go."
The EPA issued Delta with a licence variation last year forcing the company to maintain higher emission standards for nitrogen oxides at Vales Point.
Delta is also required to undertake activities to protect the local environment including a seagrass monitoring program and water sampling plan.
“We will continue to ensure Delta acts in accordance with its environmental responsibilities to prevent future events and protect the environment in Lake Macquarie," Mr Chappel said.