Valley awaits Labor energy policy

An alternative Australian government is set to announce a bold renewable energy policy that will once again place uncertainty on the Latrobe Valley region and its power industry workforce.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will use this weekend’s ALP national conference in Melbourne to discuss a target of 50 per cent renewable power generation by 2030.

A spokesperson for Shadow Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water Mark Butler did not address questions if the policy would include a contract for closure of the region’s power stations, but said “Australia’s electricity system does need modernisation” and was not utilising new and effective technologies.

“This will focus on enabling the expansion of the renewable energy industry through driving investment in wind, solar, wave and other clean energy resources,” the spokesperson said.

It follows a leaked Labor policy document published by News Corp Australia last week, set to be announced at the weekend, includes an “Electricity Transformation Plan to phase out coal-fired power generation in favour of renewable energy sources”.

Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester has called the policy another political exercise to win votes in the city at the expense of blue-collared jobs in the Valley after the failed ‘contract for closure’ policy under the previous government.

When asked if the proposed plan put any pressure on the Coalition to consider tougher climate policy, Mr Chester said it had “zero” effect.

“The Coalition has a plan to increase investment in renewable energy which was supported by Labor, but now we have a thought bubble with very little detail of the impact on the Latrobe Valley,” Mr Chester said.

He also criticised local Labor Member for Eastern Region Harriet Shing for not standing up to “city bosses” on behalf of the community.

In response Ms Shing said she supported a more ambitious renewable energy target in the next 15 years and called the Coalition’s commentary “scaremongering”.

“He says it’s bad news for people in the fossil fuel industry in the Valley, how do you get a mortgage… I see it as the other way round,” Ms Shing said.

“If we don’t act and move towards other energy technologies in a good market share, we’ll miss out on good opportunities for the long-term growth and reducing unemployment figures across Gippsland,” Ms Shing said.

Representatives from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union and the Gippsland Trade and Labor Council said they wanted further detail about the policy and insisted the community and unions be consulted further if jobs were affected.

“I think it would probably be naive to think such a target wouldn’t have an impact on this region,” Gippsland Trades and Labour Council secretary Steve Dodd said.