End of an era

The CFMMEU is calling on the state government to design worker transition scheme laws. file photograph

Hazelwood’s eight power generating units will grind to a halt on in March next year, bringing an end to 45 years of power generation.

Industry and government sources yesterday revealed the Latrobe Valley brown coal power station will be decommissioned for a period of six years, followed by a likely six-year mine rehabilitation project expected to create 250 jobs.

The plant will be completely shut down and there will not be a staged closure as feared by unionists.

The Express understands majority owner, French energy company Engie, will make an announcement this afternoon about the power station and mine, affecting more than 500 direct employees and about 300 full-time contractors. Sources also confirmed the company had intended to make an announcement last week, but delayed.

With the average Hazelwood worker earning $100,000, hefty pay outs are expected from the company.

Speaking with The Express yesterday CFMEU Victoria district mining and energy division secretary Geoff Dyke estimated it would take 10 to 12 years and about 200 workers to rehabilitate the Morwell mine.

“You could close it down in 12 months, but there wouldn’t be any time to look at deploying workers and providing assistance, organising the demolition of old units and engaging workers for mine rehabilitation,” Mr Dyke said.

“It would be far better to use less workers that were local and do it over a longer period of time.”

He said rehabilitation was practical because it suited the skills of workers in the power industry, noting a community interest in restoring the site to the natural environment.

Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester said if an announcement was made today, the Federal Government would provide an appropriate response.

“The Federal Government stands ready to work with the State Government on a multi-million dollar investment package that focuses on helping local workers and their families,” Mr Chester said.

He said it would be critical for workers to receive their full entitlements from Engie and were supported as they transitioned to new jobs.

“In addition to that, there are ways the federal and state governments can work with Latrobe City Council and local community groups to ensure our region receives its share of government resources.”

Latrobe City chief executive Gary Van Driel said council was crafting a transition plan of its own and yesterday called for a bipartisan committee that would oversee the development of a 10-year plan for the region.

The plan – yet to go before the newly-elected councillors – would be community-led and developed in response to a board decision of Hazelwood’s future.

“We’re listening to the rumours like everyone else; we’ve heard no formal announcement,” Mr Van Driel said yesterday.

A CFMEU survey of 1000 power industry workers shows the majority of employees are in their 50s and before the retirement age.

Of the 155 Hazelwood Power Station members surveyed close to 40 members are between the age of 50 and 55. More than 30 Morwell mine workers are in the 55 to 59 bracket.

The older age bracket compares to more varied age profiles at Engie’s Loy Yang B, AGL’s Loy Yang A and Energy Australia’s Yallourn station and mines, with larger groups in their 20s, 30s and 40s.

The CFMEU and environmentalists have long spruiked the jobs potential of rehabilitating vast swathes of disused mine. An independent assessment by American technical services company AECOM at the reopened Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry last year estimated the cost of rehabilitating the Hazelwood mine was $251 million.

The State Government raised Hazelwood mine’s bond of $15 million to $36.7 million after the Inquiry found mine owners could “walk away” from their liability, and is expected to raise the mine’s self-assessed value to $73 million in January next year.

Prior to today’s announcement a spokesperson for Premier Daniel Andrews said a substantial package for workers was being put together “in the event that Hazelwood closes”.

Incentives to attract new businesses to the Valley and for existing businesses to expand were also mooted.

Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the government would ensure the Latrobe Valley had a strong future no matter what decision Hazelwood’s owners made.

“We stood with the Valley through the mine fire and we’ll keep standing with the Valley through whatever challenges the future holds,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

Engie declined to comment, maintaining its long-held position no decision had been made.