Blog | 27th Sep, 2016

Hazelwood closure shows we need a plan for energy change

On Saturday morning the Latrobe Valley woke to the news that people have been both expecting and fearing: “Hazelwood shutdown near” splashed across the front page of The Age.

French energy giant Engie, the majority owner of Hazelwood coal power station near Morwell, is expected to make a decision in October to retire the 50-year-old plant.

It’s not the first time that Hazelwood, the dirtiest power station in the developed world, has been earmarked for closure.

In 2010 in its final days, the Brumby government promised to commence the closure of Hazelwood. And then again in 2012, the Gillard government promised to secure closure of 2000 megawatts of brown coal through a “cash for closure” scheme, but Hazelwood and others wanted unreasonable amounts of public money, and the plan failed.

This time we need to get it right. Hazelwood needs a retirement date, both to reduce greenhouse pollution but also to make way for renewable energy replacements. Earlier this month the Australian Renewable Energy Agency funded 12 large-scale solar projects. None of them were in Victoria, where our electricity market is horribly oversupplied with brown coal generation. We are missing out on jobs and investment in clean energy as a result of Hazelwood operating well beyond its use-by date.

Retiring Hazelwood will also reduce the serious health impacts caused by air pollution, impacts scorched into our memory by the Hazelwood mine fire. And when the power station closes, 27 billion litres of fresh water each year – as much as Melbourne consumes in a month – can be put to other uses such as agriculture and restoring natural flows to rivers.

But the Latrobe Valley’s apprehension about phasing out coal is understandable. While the Victorian government committed $40 million to help diversify the local economy in the last state budget, there’s no clear transition plan yet, and the federal government is missing in action. Leaving the timing of the power station closure to the market, and to decision-makers in Paris and Hong Kong board rooms, risks leaving communities in the lurch.

It’s not too late. We already know some of the key ingredients of a transition plan. We know younger workers can be redeployed from power stations that are closing to those that will remain open, while workers nearing retirement can be offered a package as the CFMEU is advocating. We know that rehabilitating the massive Hazelwood mine pit – an area much larger than Melbourne CBD – will create hundreds of jobs for more than a decade. And we know there are many opportunities beyond coal in the Latrobe Valley, whether it is in agriculture, tourism, manufacturing or clean energy.

So what we need now is for Engie and the state and federal governments to step up and provide significant long-term support for the community as we make the necessary transition to clean energy and a pollution-free economy.

From the local to the global, climate change is already harming our way of life. Last December an unprecedented early season bushfire ripped through the coastal community of Wye River, this year warmer waters bleached the Great Barrier Reef, and future sea level rise threatens to inundate entire Pacific Island nations.

To prevent the worst impacts we need to rapidly transform the way our economy works, and particularly the way we produce energy. That change, like climate change, can be scary. As we make tough decisions like closing Hazelwood, we need leadership and support for communities on the frontline of this energy transition.

This letter first appeared in The Age, read it here >>

Header image credit: Doug Gimesy