H’wood closure suggestions denied

The Hazelwood mine operator has denied suggestions its brown coal power station may be shut down following comments made by the company’s French chief executive.

Other media have reported Isabelle Kocher, the CEO of Hazelwood’s parent company ENGIE, told the French Senate on Wednesday they were looking at a possible closure or sale of Hazelwood “if the state of Victoria tells us that it cannot meet power generating needs with this plant”.

However, an Australian ENGIE spokesperson said any decisions on investment, divestment or closure were made by the ENGIE Board with approval by shareholders.

“No such decision has been made regarding Hazelwood,” the spokesperson said.

“Some have interpreted her comments as ENGIE saying it has decided to close Hazelwood. That is not the case.”

In Parliament on Thursday, Energy, Environment and Climate Change Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said ENGIE assured the State Government there were no plans to close Hazelwood or Loy Yang B.

Ms D’Ambrosio criticised the Greens for “running around with glee” every time a comment on the other side of the world was made about coal-fired power stations.

“The whole world knows that there is an oversupply in the market. I don’t need to tell ENGIE that there is an oversupply in the market; that is absolutely clear. These things are delicate decisions that are made by businesses,” she said.

Gippsland Trades and Labour Council called on the Hazelwood mine and power station owners to put their plans on the table and talk realistically about the future of the mine and power station.

“When we are talking about closure, we are talking about people’s lives, their families, their future,” GTLC secretary Steve Dodd said.

Mr Dodd said there was much talk about transition and funding to plan for transition, but there were still many questions to be asked, such as, ‘what will the region transition to?’.

“Rumours and media reports such as we have seen today (Thursday) is very hard for all those concerned; it is disheartening,” he said.

Environment Victoria campaigns manager Nicholas Aberle said Victoria has had an over-supplied electricity market for several years, citing a 2014 Australian Energy Market Operator estimate of 2000 megawatts more generating capacity than needed and Hazelwood creating 1600 MW.

Dr Aberle said the announcement shouldn’t be a surprise.

“This is no longer a theoretical closure, this is now a real and imminent thing and from a Latrobe Valley perspective we need to prepare for that,” Dr Aberle said.

“We need a very serious commitment regionally to plan and implement the transition from relying on coal power as part of the economy.

“It’s at the whim of corporate decisions in Paris and Hong Kong, if ENGIE shuts down Hazelwood it’s a business decision.

“If the government gets involved in the process there is a much greater likelihood it can protect the region’s economy.”

Greens sitting member for Melbourne Ellen Sandell said the government should plan for Hazelwood’s closure so it could create alternative jobs before the coal company pulls out.

“Instead, workers and communities are at risk of being left high and dry, like they were when Port Augusta and Anglesea closed,” Ms Sandell said.