Coal’s windy reception

Environmentalists have called for the closure of the Latrobe Valley’s brown coal power stations following government approval of the state’s biggest wind farm in history.

On Tuesday the State Government announced it had approved the development of a $650 million dollar, 96-turbine wind farm near Dundonnell, in Victoria’s south-west.

The Victorian Greens and Environment Victoria have voiced support for the project, dubbed by Premier Daniel Andrews as “the biggest in the state’s history”, but are concerned further investment into renewable energy is being hindered by the state’s excess coal.

Environment Victoria campaign manager Nicholas Aberle said coal-fired power stations were the biggest climate polluters in the country.

He said renewable energy was ready to power communities, but a “well accepted fact” that Victoria had more electricity capacity than needed was impacting investment.

“That creates less incentive for investors to buy into more renewables in Victoria as we have an oversupply,” Dr Aberle said.

The Greens state leader, Greg Barber, told The Express the construction of wind farms needed to be accompanied by the phasing out of coal power plants, including those in the Latrobe Valley.

“New wind farms are great, but the old, polluting coal power stations are locking renewables out of the market,” Mr Barber said.

Both groups have called on the State Government to establish a plan to support the Latrobe Valley community through a transition phase.

Energy, Environment and Climate Change Minister Lily D’Ambrosio branded Mr Barber’s claims as “ridiculous”.

“It is ridiculous to say that renewable energy is being locked out of the market. The Andrews Government has already announced two new wind farms for Victoria and has also approved the $650 million wind farm project near Dundonnell,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

“The Andrews Labor Government supports wind energy because it creates thousands of local jobs and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.”

She said the government would work with the community to create a long-term plan for transition and highlighted the $40 million package announced at the last state budget, which was designed to “help grow and diversify the economy in the Latrobe Valley, to grow existing local businesses” as an example of the government investment.

Mr Barber said residents wanted answers to plan for the future.

“They want to know if they have a future in the Latrobe Valley or if they should be moving out, or commuting to Dandenong for future job prospects,” Mr Barber said.

“Now is the time to plan an orderly transition for the Latrobe Valley so thousands of workers aren’t left in the lurch when coal power stations inevitably close.”

Dr Aberle said a multifaceted approach would be a “sensible way” to handle transition, with government, business and community input essential.

An AGL Energy spokesperson said the Loy Yang Power Station operator recognised the need to address the challenges of modernising and decarbonising the electricity generation industry which would require a suite of complementary policies.

“These policies will need to include a plan for the orderly exit of aged, high-emitting coal-fired power stations to create sustainable conditions for investment in new renewables,” the spokesperson said.

Yallourn Power Station operator EnergyAustralia and Hazelwood parent company ENGIE, operator of Hazelwood Power Station, declined to comment on the calls for closure by the Greens.

Despite recent media reports, the ENGIE spokesperson said its Australian business was not for sale.