It’s time to revitalise the State Electricity Commission of Victoria (SECV) as the body to organise, oversee and plan the just transition from coal fired power to renewable energy. This organisation is approaching the end of its current usefulness as the State government agreement to provide Alcoa with cheap electricity finishes at the end of this year. It now needs an injection of funds, a new brief to reorganise our energy priorities to a low carbon future and to relocate back to the valley.
From its early beginnings in 1917 many would have seen the drive to brown coal generated power as an impossible task. Yet within 10 years Yallourn was up and working. The SECV was a success story that managed the growth of the Victorian power industry and provided power and economic growth through much of the 20th Century. Since the ill-advised and badly managed privatisation commenced in 1994 the SECV has become a shell principally to provide subsidies to Alcoa. Parts of the Valley – especially in Morwell and Moe – have become depressed regions. But climate change means the inevitable closure of all the valley generators.
Recent studies by the Australian Conservation Foundation have revealed what ‘Blind Freddy’ already knew – that the four brown coal generators in the Latrobe Valley are the top carbon polluters in Australia. If we are to make any significant reduction in our greenhouse gas output all these generators need to be closed in a very short time – as little as 10 years. Although this has been known for some time (I wrote a short basic essay on how this could be done 4 years ago) no progress has been made at either a State or Federal level. In Victoria there have been minor policy improvements on both climate change matters and renewable energy. But these are mainly token changes with much tinkering at the edges and consulting the electorate on too much detail. State Labor has effectively used up half their term in office without even approaching the critical connected problems of closing the brown coal generators and a just transition in the Latrobe Valley.
By reviving the SECV and giving it the brief of overseeing the just transition the organisation can immediately commence planning for its eventuality. The timetable should include a return to full employment across the valley and an extensive local media campaign to support the changes and be armed with both the teeth and the finances to complete the task in say, 15 years. If the State Labor government cannot do something along these lines before the next election their policies on climate change will be insufficient, and invariably another failure.