Closure back on agenda

A government-forced closure of Hazelwood Power Station could be back on the agenda, under a plan to be pushed by the Greens if they hold the balance of power after the 29 November election.

The ambitious policy, which would prioritise Hazelwood’s decommissioning some time next year, would become a key demand by the Greens if they win key seats in the lower or upper house, in what’s shaping up to be a knife-edge election.

The policy, which would require the backing of whichever major party forms government, also proposes the 2015 decommissioning of a single Yallourn power station generation unit, and the 150 megawatt coal-fired station in Anglesea.

Then policy would later seek the retirement of Yallourn’s remaining three units and the closure of Loy Yang B by 2023.

Under the plan The Greens would implement a “jobs rich” program of station decommissioning and mine rehabilitation through a planned schedule overseen by a Latrobe Valley employment transition taskforce.

However its plan to create a renewable energy sector in the Valley through the construction of solar farms and other projects over rehabilitated mines has been dismissed as “unrealistic” due to the lower intensity of sunlight and wind relative to other parts of the state.

The announcement came on Thursday as part of a two-pronged federal and state push by the Greens to prioritise the closure of every state’s “dirtiest coal power plants”, starting in Victoria.

Citing the oversupply of power generation and the Valley’s ageing power station infrastructure, national Greens leader Christine Milne said government intervention was needed to ensure the region could transition smoothly away from coal fired power.

“With huge excess power supply and last century technology, they will become junk assets within the next five years, unable to compete with cheap, cleaner energy,” Ms Milne said.

The Greens have flagged their intention to use any legislative veto powers to negotiate a new Victorian parliament to require amendments to the state’s Electricity Industry Act 2000 and to force the Energy and Mining Minister to withdraw power stations’ generation licences.

The plan comes after the Brumby Labor government moved to phase out two generation units at Hazelwood, however the plan was later abolished by the Coalition government when it came into power in 2010.

Meanwhile the former Federal Labor Government abandoned its Contract for Closure scheme – which aimed to decommission 2000 megawatts of coal-fired power generation in the Valley – after a period of private cost negotiations reached an impasse.

While the Greens have long supported policies of government intervention in coal fired power sector, Thursday’s announcement marks a clear intention by the party to bring the approach back to the fore of public debate.

With a range of opinion polls predicting a Labor victory on a two-part preferred basis, the policy announcement had given rise to speculation of a possible deal between the Green and an Andrews Government.

While Member for Morwell Russell Northe ruled out any chance of a deal between the Coalition and the Greens, he said a possible agreement with Labor should be of “enormous concern” to the Latrobe Valley community.

“There’s a lot of hypotheticals here, but my point of view is that in a worst case scenario, Labor could actually agree to something like this and help them implement this policy,” Mr Northe said.

“The Greens talk in their policy about replacing the Valley’s electricity generation with solar and wind, but the reality is solar and wind not going to be effective here. In other jurisdictions perhaps, but what would become of our local community is totally unclear.”

In August the Australian Energy Market Operator found up to 2200 MW of surplus power generation could be removed from the Victorian grid in 2015 while a further 1450 to 3100 MW could be taken out of the system in 2023.

While Mr Northe acknowledged the drop in consumer demand for electricity, he said there were still “enormous supply challenges” in peak demand times, as experienced in the summer 2014 period.

Greens candidate for Morwell Dan Caffrey said while the new policy was “ambitious” to schedule Hazelwood’s closure next year, he applauded its role in refocusing the community’s attention on “one of the toughest issues facing the Valley”.

“I’ll be advocating for a fairness to be built into it so people aren’t thrown onto the scrap heap, there has to be somewhere realistic for the jobs to go to, so there is an equity issue about replacement industries here,” Mr Caffrey said.

While the Labor party was approached for comment, it did not respond to questions before going to print.