As the closure of the Hazelwood power plant looms closer, it is becoming increasingly clear that the government has no transition plan for the LaTrobe Valley. It's imperative that the workers in the valley develop a program of their own to transition away from coal.
The behemoth is shutting down. Completed in 1971, Hazelwood - the Soviet-era beast of a power plant that produces up to a quarter of the state's energy - is scheduled to shut in the next few weeks.
image credit: The Age online
Following the privatisation of the energy industry and years of official neglect, this is just "Another kick in the guts for the Latrobe Valley," as the CFMEU's mining and energy president puts it. The Andrews State Government has, at the last minute, shown some interest in the almost 1000 workers set to lose employment, offering grants and funding amounting to $226 million. The federal government is still scrambling to respond.
The remaining three plants in the valley remain in a precarious position. Brown coal is plentiful in the valley, but so dirty and so low in value that there's virtually no export market for the product. It's burnt there or it's not burnt at all. But the plants haven't been updated for years, and even basic maintenance is lax, allegedly contributing to the horrific fires that burnt through the Valley two years ago. In the face of climate change, coal - and brown coal especially - is rapidly becoming a "stranded investment" that can't turn a profit and which no one will buy.
This is a good thing for the planet's climate and - in the long run - for our communities. It's also been predicted for years. So why isn't there a transition plan for the LaTrobe Valley?
Successive governments have been in denial about the realities of a shifting energy market, pinning hopes on pipedreams like clean coal and carbon sequestration.
Investment that could have been directed at rebuilding grid infrastructure to better suit renewables has instead been sunk into the pockets of multinational companies without ties to the local communities, and who answer to no one but their shareholders. Even the comparitively progressive Andrews government has, until very recently, shown no interest in the Valley - but their response has been a piecemeal kneejerk reaction to pressure bought to bear by workers. There remains no plan for the Valley.
There is no escaping the realities of climate change. Coal is going out of business - and not before time! Nevertheless, unless a thoughtfully planned and executed transition to a coal-free economy is rapidly developed, the region which has underpinned Victoria's economic development throughout the 20th and 21st centuries will once again be burnt. This plan could take many forms, but the decision must be made by those wo work and live in the Valley. Groups like voices of the valley and the earthworker cooperative are the only hope for a democratic, truly just transition out of coal for the LaTrobe Valley. Workers can't rely on the government - state or federal - to do the job for them.