Jobs, the Just Transition and Electricity Generation

Morwell Power Station (The Age)

With one or two exceptions political parties of all persuasions appear almost bereft of imagination when it comes to implementing a just transition in the renewable energy revolution. One exception is the South Australian government which has been encouraging widespread investment in batteries, renewable energy and other forms of energy storage.  The Victorian government is trying hard with renewable energy but somehow hasn’t quite grasped the main problem of the transition – that centralised power production in the Latrobe Valley is in decline and being replaced by electricity that can be produced anywhere. Because of the decentralised nature of renewable energy production it appears jobs are slowly being exported, for example, to western Victoria where wind energy has established a strong manufacturing base in Portland.

The valley is now going through the second painful ‘transition’ process it has faced in the last 30 years – privatisation being the first. A recent opinion poll indicates that employment is by far the most important concern for Gippslanders. But the damage done by clinging to the old power system is considerable as the remaining power stations will eventually be closed down in the not too distant future and possibly much sooner than we think. Through lack of planning jobs in the power industry are being exported wherever renewable energy is being developed.

There are many job options that utilise valley resources with Gippsland advantage include offshore wind, energy storage in pumped hydro and floating solar farms. I made a few suggestions along these lines in the previous blog below. There are also a number of possible projects suitable for the valley that involve win/win situations. They include restoration of the Hazelwood open cut and lining the walls with solar PV as suggested some time ago by Dan Caffrey and manufacturing products from the various fly-ash deposits in the valley. I understand that this was considered by the Gippsland Trades and Labour Council and some work on this was done at Monash Gippsland.

The current squabble over the heritage listing of the Morwell Power Station could also be resolved into a win/win opportunity. Is it possible for the asbestos to be removed and then use the buildings for other purposes such as the installation of batteries, flywheels or some other renewable energy component? I hope to look into each of these options in more detail at a later date.

To achieve a ‘just transition’ the State government needs to pour funds (taken from other less important areas) into the valley and create more than full employment in the area. It must be emphasized that this requires government funding – it cannot be done by private enterprise.