Australia’s Dirtiest Power Station Is Shutting Down, No Thanks To Our Government

It's good news for the environment, but what about the workers?

climate change

For years environmentalists have been campaigning to shut down one of the world’s most polluting power plants: the Hazlewood coal fired power station in Victoria. Today Hazelwood’s owners, French energy company Engine, announced that the power station would shut down in 2017 as a result of “current and forecast market conditions”.

The decision has been celebrated by climate change activists who are desperate for Australia to start transitioning away from coal fired power, but there’s concern that hundreds of workers could be left in the lurch.

Hazelwood is powered by brown coal, one of the most polluting sources of energy in the world. According to a report by WWF it is the dirtiest power station in the developed world, in terms of carbon dioxide emissions. The plant has produced relatively cheap electricity for the past half a century.

One of the reasons why brown coal fired power stations are so cheap is because they tend to sit right next to coal mines. Hazelwood is situated next too the Morwell coal mine, which caught on fire in 2014. According to Engie, the power station was no longer economically viable, hence the sudden and full shut down.

Even though Hazelwood provides 25 percent of Victoria’s electricity its closure is unlikely to impact energy supply. That’s because other power stations have the capacity to meet existing energy demand.

Global energy companies like Engie are increasingly moving away from coal fired power station, due a combination of public pressure and government policies designed to cut emissions. The decision to close down Hazelwood reflects a world-wide trend away from coal.

Experts have been calling on the Australian government to start planning for a future without coal in order to help transition workers in the energy sector. It’s expected hundreds of workers will be laid off as a result of the closure. The federal government has announced a $43 million package to help retrain workers and the Victorian government is kicking in an additional $22 million.

The decision highlights how disconnected the current federal government is from the economics of energy production. The world is shifting away from coal but our environment minister, Josh Frydenberg, last year talked about the “moral imperative” behind coal mining.

Groups like the Clean Energy Council and Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), are calling on the government to develop a transition plan to acknowledge the end of the coal era. If the government doesn’t wake up to reality we’re still going to see the closure of more power stations and the loss of more jobs. We just won’t be able to take advantage of the renewable energy economy and support workers in a fair transition.

Feature image via Market Forces