It is obvious that the Latrobe Valley’s greatest assets are its infrastructure – in particular the high voltage transmission lines and to a lesser extent a skilled workforce. There are four 500KV transmission lines between Hazlewood and Melbourne, which with the closure of Hazlewood have plenty of spare capacity. Elsewhere in the state, solar and wind farms have had their energy output restricted or closed down due to the inability, at various times, of the transmission lines to carry the extra power load.
It is also obvious that, with the climate emergency, we have to move rapidly from our greenhouse polluting coal generators to clean energy. As the brown coal generators close, hopefully well before their ‘use by’ date, then further spare capacity will be created. This can easily be utilised and balanced by encouraging a large number of renewable energy projects within a reasonable distance of the mains transmission lines or the Basslink high voltage direct current interconnector.
One way to do this is by creating a renewable energy zone, similar to those currently promoted by the NSW government within, say 100K of Traralgon. Such a project would be a win / win opportunity for the valley with abundant jobs, and for the State government with its renewable energy rollout and climate obligations.
There are already a number of projects within this area that I have been promoting over the years include the Baw Baw Pumped Hydro project of Paul Treasure and the Star of the South Offshore wind farm, each of which could generate the energy now produced by Yallourn. The best projects to start with are those near or adjacent to the mains transmission lines including the Delburn wind farm west of Morwell.
One possibility is the utilisation of the Hazlewood pondage with floating solar. There are a number of similar projects, proposed by retired valley engineer Chris Barfoot, and he pointed out the required floats could be manufactured locally. Another project that deserves consideration is turning the Hazlewood open cut into a huge solar farm by placing solar panels on the reclaimed banks, as was suggested by Dan Caffrey of Traralgon many years ago.
Further afield, but well within the 100k zone, are the Fulham solar farm and the Gippsland Renewable Energy Park. Both these projects, proposed by Solis, are already on the ‘drawing board’. No doubt there are many other renewable energy opportunities here, including smaller pumped hydro sites and even battery storage.
All that is required is for the State government to come on board, and using the ‘renewable energy zone’ model as established by the NSW government, create a Victorian zone in the best place to do so – Gippsland.