Call for power stations’ ‘retirement’

SOME of Australia’s largest environment groups joined forces in Canberra on Tuesday imploring the Federal Government to provide “certainty” to the Latrobe Valley by announcing the “retirement” of local power stations.

Environment Victoria, the Australian Conservation Foundation, GetUp Action for Australia and the Australian Youth Climate Coalition converged on Canberra to intensify their campaign to ensure the Federal Government delivers on its ‘contracts for closure’ commitment, which could see at least one local power station close, amid speculation the proposal could be shelved.

The green groups recruited the support of the United States’ “most influential environmental group”, the Sierra Club. 

They said the group had written to Federal Energy and Resources Minister Martin Ferguson telling him the US had retired 120 coal-fired power stations which had “provided significant benefits for the health of American communities, the health of our environment and investment in new industries and jobs for affected workers”.

While the looming potential closure of Hazelwood Power Station or the Yallourn Power Station, both of which have entered contracts for closure talks with the government, has led to widespread fears about mass job losses in the Valley, the green groups claimed a successful conclusion to the contracts process would give the area “certainty” so it could “plan for replacement capacity and develop new clean energy jobs”.

This week GetUp also released national poll findings which it said showed “more than twice as many Australians support than oppose closing ageing coal plants”.

The groups said coal plants like Hazelwood were “18th century fossils, harming the health of our families and our environment”.

Speaking to The Express after Tuesday’s visit to Canberra, Environment Victoria campaigns director Mark Wakeham conceded little light had been shed on how negotiations for the compensated closure of coal-fired plants were progressing.

“The case remains that it is all still highly confidential and it is very hard to get a sense of what is actually going on inside the negotiations,” he said.

He said, however, he was confident once a “floor price” for carbon was enacted in Federal Parliament, the program would progress.

A regulated floor price for carbon, for when the carbon price transitions to an emissions trading scheme in 2015, was another key component of the Federal Government’s Clean Energy Future package, Mr Wakeham said. 

So far political agreement has not been reached on what that floor price should be.

Mr Wakeham claimed once a floor price was agreed on, and enacted, it would be easier to assess the value of power stations, allowing the government to “get to the pointy end of the negotiations and secure contracts for closure”.

On a recent visit to the Valley, Mr Ferguson conceded the government had found it harder than initially expected to reach agreement with power generators about their asset’s value.

The government has not publicly released a new date for an announcement on contracts for closure after it did not meet the original 30 June deadline.