THE closure of the Anglesea coal-fired power plant is a sign of the times we are living in, writes Victoria Mckenzie-McHarg
The heavy-polluting plant had become a dinosaur of a bygone era, whose extinction should have come quicker. Alcoa, the previous owner of the plant, had tried unsuccessfully to find a buyer for the 150-megawatt plant but no-one was interested.
Locals who fought a long and courageous campaign to see the old clunker go, havegreeted the news by stating they are “over the moon” to see the closure of the plant that had tarnished the Surf Coast town’s air and reputation for 46 years of operation — although that jubilation is rightly tinged with empathy and sadness for those who will be left without jobs.
Premier Daniel Andrews is of course correct when he says the Government’s main concern now should be with the 85 workers who face losing their jobs, and the next steps of clean-up and extensive rehabilitation required at the site provide both challenges and opportunities.
In 2015, you’d be hard-pressed to find a responsible power company that would want to buy into a power plant that is inexorably tied to a previous era, a time when the world’s scientists hadn’t yet twigged to global warming and its links to the coal-fired power generation. Today, we know better.
If only the Abbott Government would stop hobbling Australia’s renewable energy industry, this would create a clear pathway for workers from old polluting industries to move into the clean, green industries of the future.
It’s no surprise that nobody stepped up to buy an old and inefficient power station, with the energy market already bulging from too many outdated stations. The industry knows that the future of energy will need to be low carbon and that energy policies that don’t consider emissions reduction plans are simply incomplete.
We agree with the Energy Supply Association of Australia that “the impact of climate-change policy is integral to shaping the strategic direction and bankability of the industry”. If this is the economic analysis of the industry itself, isn’t it time the Federal Government responded by helping to smooth employment pathways from coal to clean technology?
Last week, 85 jobs were lost at Anglesea. Just months earlier, another 85 jobs were lost at Portland at a wind energy manufacturer due to industry uncertainty triggered by the Abbott Government’s threatened wind-back of the Renewable Energy Target (RET).
The tragedy is that, at this moment, the government is not seizing on new opportunities in the renewable energy sector. In Germany, almost 30 per cent of its electricity grid has been switched to solar and wind energy from near zero in about 15 years. Today, more than 1.4 million German households and co-operatives a generate their own solar or wind power — creating thousands of clean energy jobs.
In Australia, we should also have opportunities right now for workers in the fossil-fuel industry to transition to jobs in clean technologies — but first we need stronger support for investment in renewables and certainty around the RET.
Once the Federal Government listens to what both the energy industry and the community is telling it, it will become clear that Australia is ideally placed to shift workers out of heavy-polluting industries of the past into clean, green industries of the future. At present the only ingredient missing is political will and leadership.