Hazelwood powers down

Shortly before 11am on Monday unit six at Hazelwood Power Station came offline for the last time.

Inside the control room a group of operators went about their work monitoring the control desk as the unit slowly wound down.

In the corner, a rectangular black box which showed the unit’s power output in red numbers slowly counted down.

As the display slowly fell to zero a group of reporters and their television cameras moved about the room capturing its final moments.

The roughly half-a-dozen workers took their own pictures and when it was all done posed for pictures.

Unit six was the second of Hazelwood’s units to come offline.

Three units came offline Monday, three more on Tuesday with the final two winding down yesterday.

It brings to an end 52 years of power generation at the site.

Station director Wayne Buckley said it had been a sad time at the plant.

“There are people here that have been here 40 plus years, one or two 50 years,” Mr Buckley said.

“So they’ve obviously spent their whole lives in the power industry and some of them at Hazelwood.”

He said he was expecting a range of emotions tomorrow, on the plant’s official last day.

“It’ll range from people who are extremely sad and obviously the emotions of moving on in terms of a new career and trying to find employment and the like to the other end of the scale where there are people at the end of their careers and ready to retire,” Mr Buckley said.

Meanwhile, in the mine, dredgers which have been digging coal at the site since the beginning have started powering down.

On the western side of the mine clay has been put down to provide an area where the machinery can be deconstructed.

Tomorrow the workers will gather in the mine to say their farewells.

Mine director Garry Wilkinson said the focus this week was on saying goodbye to staff as they finished their last shifts.

“Some of the guys have been 20, 30, 40 years. It gives them time to reflect,” Mr Wilkinson said.

“That’s the focus this week, to wind it up safely and securely.”

But despite the power station coming to an end, work will continue at the mine.

About 96 workers will carry on in the mine moving overburden, working on machinery and maintaining its fire suppression systems.

“On Monday, albeit at a much reduced level, the mine staff will attend work and we’ll continue on,” he said.

“There’s a lot of work to be done on engagement of regulators on what the final rehabilitation will look like.”

But the fact some workers will retain their jobs, the mood in the mine is bittersweet.

“It really is a rollercoaster of emotions and you can’t help but get caught up in it when you see the impact it has, particularly on the longer-term guys,” Mr Wilkinson said.

“They don’t know anything else and it’s not about the money – they’re at a stage in their lives that this is their community. So I feel for those guys.”

But as one of the region’s major employers closes, he’s not optimistic when he looks at job opportunities across the country.

“The government’s doing a lot of work at the moment to minimise the impact but you don’t see any scale industry coming over the hill to set up shop in the Latrobe Valley at this point in time,” Mr Wilkinson said.

“But that seems to be Australia at the moment when you look at the car industry and others.

“We’re not the first to be impacted by closure but it’s very poignant and bittersweet going through it, taking my team through that journey.”