13 April 2015

Hazelwood: Australia's dirtiest power station in nation with the world's dirtiest power industry

This coming Thursday 16 April a 12.30pm lunchtime rally on the steps of Melbourne's parliament house will kick off a campaign to put the replacement of Australia's dirtiest coal-fired power station back on the political agenda.

Recently-elected Victorian Greens MP Ellen Sandell that afternoon will make a statement in Parliament, calling on the government to replace Hazelwood with clean energy and to support a community-led transition plan for mine rehabilitation and job creation.

Sandell says: "Labor promised to close Hazelwood in 2010 but now they are sitting on their hands. Not even the devastating mine fire last year has compelled them to act. No government can claim to have a credible climate change policy unless it has a plan to shut down coal-fired power."

In 2010, then Labor premier John Brumby, in explaining his policy for a phased close-down of Hazelwood, told ABC radio listeners:
…either you believe in closing Hazelwood or you don’t, and I do. And so what I announced yesterday was a staged closure of Hazelwood with the first two units – they have 8 units, it’s the dirtiest power station in Australia, most commentators by the way if, you’ve read the Financial Review this morning they would say it’s probably the dirtiest anywhere in the world – and I’ve put forward a plan that we will have a staged closure of it.
The need to move quickly to replace dirty coal with clean renewable energy and jobs was highlighted by a new report from Oxford University’s Stranded Assets Programme, which identifies the 100 global power companies most at risk from growing pressure to shut highly polluting coal plants.

The analysis, produced to help investors assess the risk of major financial losses, also found Hazelwood majority owner GDF Suez was third in the list of most polluting coal station fleets in the world.

The report identified the most-polluting, least-efficient and oldest “sub-critical” coal-fired power stations. It found 89% of Australia’s coal power station fleet is sub-critical, "by far” the most carbon-intensive sub-critical fleet in world.

The International Energy Agency calculates that one in four of these sub-critical plants must close within five years, if the world’s governments are to keep their pledge to limit global warming to 2C.  This means that 22% of Australia’s coal power station fleet must close within five years if we are to play an equitable part in keeping to government pledges to limit global warming to 2C.  [Within the IEA's carbon budget frame which has a high risk of exceeding the specified 2-degree warming target.]

How can Australia's climate action movement respond, and what actions and campaigns would be a commensurate response?

A recent report on "Australia's top 10 climate polluters" released by the Australian Conservation Foundation, found that just a handful of companies are responsible for nearly one-third of our nation’s greenhouse pollution through their production and consumption of energy.
Worse, many of these companies, rather than accepting the realities and pragmatically changing their investment choices and business practices, are applying pressure on governments to shackle the economy to last century’s energy staples, coal and gas, contrary to the global trends and signals.
The names of the 10 biggest polluters are not surprising. The inglorious rollcall includes household name energy retailers such as Energy Australia, AGL and Origin. Global mining company Rio Tinto makes the cut, as does oil and gas miner Woodside and aluminium producer Alcoa. There are also lesser known entrants such as GDF Suez, which runs the Hazelwood brown coal power plant in Victoria, and Queensland government-owned Stanwell and CS Energy.
The case for campaigning now on coal power plants is strong.
  • The relatively small Anglesea power station in Victoria was built to supply power to a nearby aluminium production facility, but with the closure of that plant the power station is not needed. The current owners say they will not continue to operate it, the local community is strongly of the view that it should be closed, and any new operator could be denied a licence transfer by the Victorian government.
  • Hazelwood is distinguished by being old, inefficient, and dirty. Based on emissions intensity, it is the third-dirtiest coal power station in the world and the dirtiest in Australia, releasing around 16 million tonnes of greenhouse gases annually, almost three per cent of total Australian greenhouse emissions.  The Hazelwood majority owner, GDF Suez, owns the third-most polluting coal-power station fleet in the world.
  • Hazelwood and Anglesea are  surplus to requirements: The Australian energy market regulator, says there is 7.65–8.95 gigawatts of surplus capacity across the national market, equivalent to more than Hazelwood and Anglesea power stations.  It has also identified up to 2.2 gigawatts of brown coal generation that is no longer required in Victoria in 2015, which is greater than Hazelwood's and Anglesea's combined capacity.
  • A steady stream of local jobs can be created in the Latrobe Valley with the rehabilitation of mines and decommissioning of plant, which will require a significant workforce stretching well over a decade.  A recent valuable report has been done by Environment Victoria on mine rehabilitation. A large-scale and accelerated mine rehabilitation programme has community support, according to a poll reported in the “Latrobe Valley Express” on 13 November last year. Union leaders say the state government could unlock job creation in the Latrobe Valley if it forced operators to fast-track rehabilitation disused mines.
  • Dirty coal stations and uncertainty about the Renewable Energy Target are crowding out renewable energy and are acting as a disincentive to new large-scale renewable investment.
  • Hazelwood power station and mine are a health hazard to local residents, exemplified by the autumn 2014 mine fire. The owners of Hazelwood have abused their social licence and forfeited the right to profit from a power station that is now a major health hazard – both to local people and to all peoples who face the uncertainties of living in a hotter and more extreme climate.
In a radio discussion, Latrobe Valley union leader Luke van der Meulen told Radio National:
I think the debate about whether the closure is going to occur is over and what we've really got to do now is look at the impact on the workers in the community. And what we're really saying is [that] on this occasion, as different to last time when they privatised the industry, we want the community and the unions to be involved at the table, involved in the discussions. And the decision-making… when they privatised the industry we were saying then that there needs to be replacement industries in the valley. We were talking about wind and solar then. And if the national and State governments had have got off their behinds then, then we could have had a whole range of different industries in the Valley that could help us out of this situation. These can be done, but there needs to be some real effort at a State and national level and that's not really being seen at all at the moment…