An article published by the ABC noted that all 3 Gippsland electricity generators in the Latrobe Valley will have to close by 2030 if Australia is to reduce its CO2 emissions in line with the 1.5C aim of the Paris Agreement. To some this is inevitable and requires a rapid but orderly transition from fossil fuel based power to renewable energy. I sketched out a very rough proposal for this in 2013. Since then I have made numerous suggestions of how this ‘just transition’ can happen quickly in the valley and will summarise a few of them below.
But for this to happen by 2030 these, or similar projects, will probably all require government assistance in some way – incentives, finances and planning, guidance etc. And these projects can, and should, be designed to take advantage where possible of the valley strengths including manufacturing and infrastructure. The following suggestions are in no particular order
1.Turning waste fly ash into cement along the lines advocated by think tank Beyond Zero Emissions. The valley has at least 20 years supply of fly ash and this would be positive step towards a carbon neutral product. Touted by valley resident Howard Williams as a win/win situation.
2. Various floating solar farms have been advocated by Chris Barfoot and others at locations such as Lake Narracan and the Hazelwood Pondage. No site preparation is needed, the floats can be manufactured locally and electricity produced can hook straight into the valley infrastructure.
3. A major local pumped hydro project was suggested by Paul Treasure. Designed to be both local and connect to valley infrastructure Paul’s proposal would store as much energy as Yallourn W currently produces. This suggestion gained a fair bit of traction in the social media and attracted some green criticisms. A modified version or similar alternatives are well worth considering.
4. Star of the South is a major offshore wind farm off the Ninety Mile still in the planning stage. Again the power is designed to make its way to Melbourne via the valley and is a major development eventually employing 300 workers. This project should be fast tracked.
5. Heat pumps are now being manufactured by the Earthworker Co-operative in Morwell. Supporting this project with a bulk buy for public housing may help it grow quickly.
These projects are no means exclusive but combine a number of features – being as local as possible, supporting valley manufacturing and infrastructure, using various combinations of renewable energy and energy storage and with government support. So far most of the wind, solar farm and energy storage projects in Victoria have been outside Gippsland. What is needed is an enthusiastic local member in Morwell to push a variety of projects perhaps like some of those I have outlined.