Located in the heart of the Latrobe Valley, Hazelwood power station supplies Victoria with up to 25% of its base load electricity. The plant remains the highest polluting power station in Australia, releasing 17 million tons of greenhouse gases every year. This is the equivalent of 1.4 million households!
Hazelwood first began operations in 1965 as a Victorian state-owned business. Due to the excessive pollution it emits, it was supposed to be decommissioned in 2005. In 1996 however, the Kennett state government sold off the power station to a UK based private company called International Power.
By 2005 International Power had convinced the Labor state government to extend Hazelwood’s operating license until 2030. Apparently making profits from burning dirty brown coal is far more important to Labor than protecting the environment.
Anyone who accepts that global warming is real would also accept that there is an urgent need to replace the Hazelwood power plant with a more environmentally friendly form of energy production. The question is how to do this while also protecting jobs and the local community?
International Power has worked hard to drive a wedge between environmentalists, who want to see the plant closed, and the workers who make their living at the plant. They claim that workers and environmentalists have nothing in common. In fact nothing could be further from the truth.
Workers at the plant want job security, safe working conditions, a viable local community and a future for their children. Similarly environmentalists want a sustainable future and an expansion of jobs in the renewable energy sector.
The privatization of the plant is one of the main reasons that these objectives can not be met. Privatization has already had a negative impact on workforce. Many jobs have been lost and safety standards have been eroded since the sell off.
It is the private ownership of the plant that is also proving to be a barrier on the road to replacing Hazelwood with renewable technology. International Power management has said that it will be them alone who decide when the plant closes.
The reality is that energy production for private profit means that lining the pockets of the owners comes before safety, jobs, the environment and the local community.
If Hazelwood was brought back into public ownership, and democratically run by workers and the community, a plan could be developed to close the plant while simultaneously introducing large scale renewable energy production into the Latrobe Valley. Such a plan would give a much needed boost to the local community.
The technology already exists to do this. It has also been shown that investment in renewable energy creates nearly four times as many jobs as in the coal industry. Over time Hazelwood workers could be retrained and provided with well paid secure jobs in the clean energy sector.
If energy was produced for human need, rather than profit, there would be no contradiction between protecting both jobs and the environment. We can not leave important decisions about climate change and the future of our local communities in the hands of profiteers.
If we are to achieve real action on climate change we need to not only introduce large scale renewable technology in the Latrobe Valley but we also need to move towards a system that is based on public ownership, democratic control and planning.
By Corey Snoek & Anthony Main