Financial assistance for briquette customers

Businesses left in limbo by an eventual closure of Morwell’s EnergyBrix brown coal briquette factory have been given access to $5.5 million in Federal Government assistance.

In a visit to the Latrobe Valley on Friday, Regional Development Minister Simon Crean announced the Briquette Replacement Program, designed to assist EnergyBrix customers transition to cleaner fuel source alternatives.

Under the program, businesses will be eligible for rebates of up to $25,000, enabling them to obtain engineering and costing advice on possible alternatives, such as natural gas, while grants totaling $4.5 million over two years will assist non-manufacturing customers with capital expenses.

The announcement comes after the Federal Government awarded the ailing EnergyBrix power station $50 million last July to continue operating, which supplies steam to the briquette factory, buying time for customers to find an alternative fuel source.

“(Briquettes) are a crucial part of their operations, and currently, there is no alternative supplier of cost effective briquettes, so making the transition to other cleaner forms of fuel or feedstock will take time and investment,” Mr Crean said.

The Express understands EnergyBrix is moving to stockpile briquettes for a possible 2014 closure, allowing it to continue supplying customers after the ceasing of production.

Gippsland Greenhouse Produce manager Peter Hobson, whose hydroponic tomato operation purchases about 700 tonnes of EnergyBrix briquettes annually to fire its hot water boilers, said the pressure was on install a new heating system before EnergyBrix’s closure.

“Without those briquettes, our existing boilers will be redundant, so we have to install an entirely new system which is horrendously expensive,” Mr Hobson said.

After being quoted $850,000 for the installation of a 2.6 kilometre pipeline to give the farm access to natural gas, a price Mr Hobson said was “ludicrous”, he quickly began investigations into bio-energy, and is due to visit the United States and Europe later this year to inspect existing wood waste heating systems.

But at an estimated price tag of $400,000 to $600,000 to install wood waste boilers on farm, Mr Hobson said he needed all the assistance he could get.

“It’s a fair whack, but I suppose with the advent of carbon tax and all those sort of things, that’s the price we’ve got to pay to clean things up,” he said.

“I’ll be applying for these grants, absolutely,” Mr Hobson said, adding the Federal Government’s $50 million bailout package awarded to EnergyBrix power station last July was a saving grace for EnergyBrix customers.

“If (EnergyBrix) said they were closing their doors (last July), I would’ve been left high and dry,” Mr Hobson said.