The state's remaining coal-fired power stations are under increased pressure to respond to the influx of renewable energy while meeting increasingly stringent regulatory conditions.
Environmental Protection Authority chief executive Tony Chappel met with Lake Macquarie and Central Coast residents living in the shadow of Eraring and Vales Point power stations on Friday as part of a review of power station licence conditions.
The EPA received about 100 submissions from NSW communities as part of its recent consultation process.
Human health and environmental impacts including greenhouse gas emissions, coal ash and water quality have dominated the issues raised.
Mr Chappel said the uptake of renewables in the grid was changing the how traditional coal-fired plants operated. This, in turn, was impacting their licencing conditions.
"The coal plants that are still in the system are ramping up and down much more quickly. There's a learning curve that industry needs to go on to adjust their operations and manage their emissions to meet the higher standards," he said.
"We required Vales Point Power Station to do some work around adjusting how they operate to make sure they comply with the new standards," he said.
"It's the sort of adjustment that we expect the power sector to do as a whole to do as it moves into a new phase where they're operating more flexibly with different parameters than what coal stations have operated under."
Mr Chappel said the EPA was proactively working to facilitate the development of a circular economy around the material.
Increasing the amount of coal ash in road construction was among the most effective ways of increasing coal ash recycling.
"Government is a very big purchaser across the economy, but particularly for products like low carbon cement, road base and other very viable uses for coal ash," he said.
"We are working right now with transport and infrastructure NSW and a couple of major road projects to trial up the methodology (for increased coal ash).
Future Sooner spokesperson Gary Blaschke, who attended Friday's meeting, was wanted to know how the EPA would respond to the community's long-held concerns about the pollution impacts of power stations.
"The recent United Nation's draft end of mission statement determined that 'ambient air quality standards in Australia are less protective than in other member countries...' that 'ash dams from coal combustion also poses threats to groundwater and drinking water of local communities.' and that 'the level of penalties is insufficient in severity to motivate compliance...while the toxic harm is imposed upon neighbouring communities.' he said.
"The EPA Protection of the Environment Operations Act says that it is there to reduce the risks to human health and prevent the degradation of the environment. How does handing our exemption orders to Vales Point fit in with that?