In the 2010 state election I stood as an Independent “climate emergency” Candidate in the seat of Morwell with a platform of rapid transition from coal powered generation to renewable energy. This valid call is still ignored and to a great extent – aside from the Hazelwood open cut fire – little has changed.
But it is becoming obvious to everyone except our policy makers and powerful vested interests (and perhaps the drover’s dog) that the end of brown coal generation is approaching fast. This is primarily because of carbon emissions and climate change but there are also a host of other problems associated with brown coal power generation including air pollution, asbestos, mercury contamination in the Gippsland Lakes, subsidence and vulnerability to fire and flood.
The greens and some environment groups have recently renewed their calls for the closure of Hazelwood arguing that mine and power station rehabilitation will provide a boost for employment. The problem is that for any just transition, unlike the disaster of privatisation, the jobs must come first.
What is required now is some forward planning so the transition fro coal to renewable energy is done as seamlessly and quickly (10 to 15 years) as possible. Employment in the Valley can be boosted by starting the transition to renewable energy now and by beginning an ongoing process of negotiating with all interested parties for an orderly and just transition. It goes without saying that any contracting should be sourced as locally as possible.
A good example for starting the transition would be an order from the state government to start replacing every hot water service in state owned buildings with heat pumps from the Earthworker Co-operative in Morwell, conditional on factors like boosted apprentice intake, and increasing local manufacturing.
Another example is geothermal. It has been calculated by the Melbourne Energy Institute at Melbourne University that current generator’s carbon emissions could be reduced by 20% by using geothermal energy just below the coal to assist in the heating process. Why haven’t the power generators done this? Tighter emissions controls may be an incentive for generators to adopt this process.
There are a number of examples of opportunities like this. The transition from coal to renewable energy is inevitable and the question now is how to do this as rapidly and fairly as possible.