Blog | 3rd May, 2021

The road to coal free Victoria

Renewables are in and coal is out. That’s the message being reinforced by analysts everywhere as cleaner, cheaper renewable energy pushes out polluting fossil fuels and the energy transition picks up pace globally.  

Almost every day, the Australian media speculate about the shortening lifetimes of the remaining coal-burning power stations. The signs are there we’re moving in the right direction, but we’ve got a long way to go to match the pace of change we need to address the climate crisis. United Nations chief António Guterres recently urged leaders of developed countries, including Australia, to present plans to phase out burning coal by 2030.

The word ‘plan’ is pivotal. A growing chorus is calling on governments to form definite plans to make the transition more predictable and provide support for coal workers and communities most impacted by change.

The Australian federal government is missing-in-action on both fronts. It has no plans to change the energy mix in line with climate science, and it has no national framework to manage the retirement of increasingly unviable coal power stations.

Fortunately, the Victorian government has been stepping up to the challenge of managing our state’s energy transition, in no small part thanks to the action of people like you showing support for clean energy and climate action.

But so far, it’s been all push and no pull. The state government has been proactive in making sure we have the replacement renewable energy and storage we need, but it’s been lacking in its approach to the pointier issue of how to pull out the coal generation we no longer need. We’re missing an integrated plan that spells out how all three remaining coal power stations in the Latrobe Valley can be replaced by 2030 with renewable energy, storage and transmission. That’s what we need, and that’s what we’ll be continuing to fight for.

Many of you have been calling on the Victorian Environment Protection Authority (EPA) to put limits on climate pollution and dangerous toxic air pollution for coal power stations in Victoria. It was deeply disappointing to see the EPA’s failure to do so in the recent review of the licences of all three Latrobe Valley coal power stations. This is another warning sign that Victoria is not dealing effectively with our coal pollution problem.

Now the EPA – our state’s ‘pollution watchdog’ has shown they will not protect Victorians from coal pollution the government must urgently step in and explain how coal emissions will be brought down and effective air pollution measures will be put in place.

In March, EnergyAustralia brought forward the closure date for Yallourn, Victoria’s oldest and most polluting coal power station, to 2028 as part of an agreement with the Victorian government.

The new Yallourn closure date of 2028 brings it inside the timeframe required for serious climate action, but it also leaves major questions. Very few details about the deal were revealed by either EnergyAustralia or the Victorian government. And if Victoria’s least viable coal power station will stay open for another seven years, what will this mean for bringing forward the closure of AGL’s Loy Yang A, currently scheduled in 2048 and Alinta’s Loy Yang B, scheduled in 2047?

2028 is too long to keep Yallourn polluting, especially considering the 2030 timeline that scientists say we need for all coal in Victoria to close.

We’re calling for answers, especially to clarify exactly how our public money is being spent. Victorians deserve much greater transparency on this deal, which may well become the model for managing coal plant retirements. Public money can’t be used to prop up coal generators beyond their shortening use-by-dates. These generators have had decades to see the need to act on climate. The liability is theirs.

Meanwhile, Latrobe Valley communities must be supported immediately to develop new industries and concrete job opportunities. Deeper support must be given to fast-track these opportunities in recognition of the 2030 timeframe for coal phase out that climate science demands.

In the bigger picture, the growing pace of the energy transition is a sign of rapid progress on the climate action front. Together we’ve been calling on governments for years to aim high, to invest in clean energy jobs and to help all of us make clean technologies central to our homes and lives. Your hard work is now paying off.

Things are shifting fast, so watch this space. The clean energy juggernaut now seems unstoppable and our exit from coal inevitable. But we must double down on our efforts to ensure plans keep sight of urgent climate action milestones and focus on support for communities on the frontlines of change.

This article first appeared in issue 35 of Environment Victoria News, you can read it here >>

Since this edition of Environment Victoria News went to print, the Victorian government has announced their long-awaited climate targets of 45-50% below 2005 levels by 2030. You can read our analysis of what this decision means in our op-ed in The Age >>