Powerless without glory

| September 26, 2016

It has been reported over the weekend that the closure of the Victoria’s Hazelwood plant in the Latrobe Valley may be imminent. Max Thomas is concerned about the future of a region that has been left with gaping holes – not only in the ground, but also in its socio-economic fabric.

The photographs of ‘Hazelwood’ power station in this story evidently don’t have enough harmless condensate for the know-nothings to be outraged about. So it appears that “The Age” used a shot of another power station at the top, just for effect. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Greens federal MP, Adam Bandt, says that successive governments “have been asleep at the wheel and now workers and communities in the Latrobe Valley will be left in the lurch unless we develop a support plan.” According to “The Age”, Bandt greeted the news of Hazelwood’s closure with exuberance, calling a press conference to declare “the age of coal is over”, notwithstanding the crucial economic role, at least in the medium term, of the Loy Yang and Yallourn power stations. For a long time the Greens’ policy has been to close Hazelwood, yet Bandt now contemptuously fails to present a coherent plan for The Valley, indicating that they too have been caught napping.

Site cleanup and reshaping the open cut batters would reportedly ‘retain’ up to 200 jobs but hundreds more would be lost. Leaving the heavy financial cost aside, the energy cost of regrading the batters and moving the overburden would be prohibitive. Contouring and revegetation with properly engineered drainage would most likely be the only practicable way to stabilise and render the slopes resistant to erosion. Much of the overburden would be low in fertility, so very large quantities of topsoil would have to be imported to establish the vegetation. A formidable project bound to generate controversy if not conflict elsewhere.

The Greens may think that cleaning up and mine restoration work is a fit substitute for the rich array of skills that once characterised the Latrobe Valley. It seems to me, however, that such a policy reveals a remote form of condescension reminiscent of the autocratic style of the former SECV hierarchy. That leads me to think about opportunity costs. There is much discussion about the inequitable treatment of the regions, Gippsland in particular. Upgrades on the Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo rail lines leave us a long way behind. We need projects that would have lasting benefits for a region that has been left with gaping holes, not only in the ground, but in its socio-economic fabric as well.

Vague ideas about extracting minerals from fly ash seems to be the currently fashionable spin in some quarters. Market conditions and technical difficulties as well as retraining requirements demand much more than wishful thinking. That mentality recently produced a ban on unconventional gas exploration in Victoria and the purchase of Springvale Station in Queensland. These ‘triumphs over common sense’ will not protect either ground water or the Barrier Reef, respectively, unless action is evidence-based in the same way The Greens insist that climate change must be addressed.

Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the Latrobe Valley community could be assured that the government was “with them every step of the way”. Scrambling to produce a ‘structural adjustment’ plan after the announcement that the closure of Hazelwood may be imminent suggests that she’s already well behind the pace.



  1. Alan Stevenson

    Alan Stevenson

    October 15, 2016 at 9:28 am

    Closure of Hazelwood

    Hazelwood is an old, inefficient power station which must be closed sometime fairly soon. That is not to say that all the expertise built up by the workers there must just go by the board. The management have known for years that the end is nigh yet they don't appear to have done much to re-skill or plan ahead. In this day and age I find this attitude puzzling – the men themselves surely must be aware of the problems they face. Have they done anything about them? Like talk to management or organise re-skilling workshops. I certainly don't know but would be surprised if that was not the case. We are dealing here with people who have skills and training which could be used elsewhere. Most of them would be of moderate to high intelligence. Maybe it's because they are not too media savvy that we are unaware of their future plans.