Hazelwood Mine Fire, Brown Coal and Climate Change

Climate emergency Independent in Gippsland East Peter Gardner has criticised the shallowness of the Hazelwood Mine Fire Royal Commission. He has pointed out that  climate change was not dealt with in the commission’s terms of reference. Yet climate change was almost certainly a contributing factor in the Hazelwood Mine Fire and is increasing the likelihood of severe fires in the Valley’s open cuts.

Gardner states that the public impression that coal mine fires are infrequent is incorrect and noted that: “Brown coal has been mined for 125 years since 1889 and there have been fires in the open coal pits of the Latrobe Valley on at least 8 occasions. These occurred in 1902, 1927, 1929, 1944, 1977, 1983, 2006 and 2014. This information is incomplete and there may have been other times when spot fires entered the pits and were quickly extinguished.”

“Further there have been many occasions in that same period when bushfires either burned the country now covered by the open cuts or were nearby. These include the Black Saturday fires which threatened Loy Yang.”

He also noted that: “there are other related effects of brown coal open cut and electricity generation that have threaten and continue to threaten our health and our electricity supplies. These include flooding, subsidence, earthquakes and mercury and other heavy metal pollution in the Gippsland Lakes.”

“With climate change upon us the likelihood of these fires and other hazards occurring in the open cuts is increasing dramatically. It is time for us to embark on massive a “Snowy Mountains” style program to change completely from coal generated electricity to renewable energy as quickly and smoothly as possible.” 

Gardner attacked both the major parties and their grandiose plans for further brown coal developments including the recent (September) public grant of $25 million to a Chinese company to produce briquettes to sell to the electricity generators. He is firmly opposed to any new coal or onshore gas developments stating that farming must have priority over these mining projects. As Tim Flannery said “Coal is the new asbestos.”

Centralised coal mines and electricity generation are vulnerable to climate change related threats including bushfire threats to mines, generators substations and transmission lines and surges in demand during heatwaves.  Gardner advocates improving reliability by obtaining power from variety of renewable sources and the establishment of micro grids.