The term ‘just transition’ has been bandied about by all and sundry recently but we need to ask “What does a Just Transition mean?” It certainly involves a substantial amount of planning but both the previous State government and the current one seem to have little idea of the processes involved. The Greens are correct in their recent call for an overseeing or co-ordinating body on this matter. I have suggested a number of times that perhaps the State Electricity Commission of Victoria (SECV) can be revived from its current hollow shell to co-ordinate and direct proceedings so that the changeover from coal based to renewable energy is gradual, smooth and seamless but done as quickly as possible.
The planner’s (SECV or otherwise) first task should be the elimination of unemployment in the Valley whilst looking for a complete shutdown of the Hazelwood Power Station within 12 months as the first major steps in the transition. This closure of the nation’s most carbon intensive power station should be a priority and follow full employment. Considerable finances and co-ordination will be required. The ample funds should be directed towards providing both renewable energy and local employment. Basic employment programs such as tree planting or a new greatly expanded apprenticeship program in the various renewable energy areas should be considered as possible means to help soak up the local pool of unemployed.
The planners should also be looking at means of utilising the current infrastructure as much as possible including closely examining possible power sources as pumped hydro and geothermal energy. Study programs on these matters should be implemented at Churchill’s Federation University – perhaps in conjunction with the Melbourne University Energy Institute – and used to assist and direct planning.
One thing the ‘just transition’ will not mean is that workers and miners will transfer out of their current jobs into 6 figure salaries doing unskilled labour. There will be still be highly paid jobs but they will be in different areas. One possibly is the technical and physical aspects of asbestos removal during power station rehabilitation. The power station owners, and in particular GDF/Suez, should be gradually downsizing now, retiring employees and generators at appropriate times and with proper payments. They should also be carefully examining ways in which they can utilise their resources beyond coal. A transition of this sort will not only benefit the workers and residents of the valley – it will benefit us all.