The Uniting Church is calling on the state and federal government to support the communities in the Latrobe Valley following the announcement that the Hazelwood power station and coal mine will shut down in March next year.
French energy company Engie, the majority owners of the station, said the Hazelwood station is no longer economically viable and has committed to turn the mine into a lake which will be handed back to the community.
The station currently employs 750 people – 450 direct employees and 300 contractors.
Following the closure of the station, up to 250 people will still be required until 2023 to manage the rehabilitation of the mine and power station site.
The decision to shut the station down will have a big impact on the wider Latrobe Valley community, which is already facing high unemployment. It is one of the most disadvantaged areas in Victoria, with an unemployment rate of nearly 20 per cent in Morwell and 15 per cent in Moe.
Synod Justice and International Mission (JIM) unit director Dr Mark Zirnsak has a personal connection with Hazelwood. He grew up in Morwell and his father used to work at the station.
“The important task now is for Engie to honour their responsibilities to workers and the local community, by working with the state and federal government to fully rehabilitate the mine and provide a range of transition options for workers,” Dr Zirnsak said.
On Thursday, the Victorian government announced a $22 million support package to provide education, counselling, financial advice and job-seeker training for workers in transition.
The government will also establish an “economic growth zone” with financial incentives, such as tax breaks, to attract new businesses to the Valley.
The Hazelwood power station is widely considered to be “Australia’s dirtiest power station” and was listed as the least carbon efficient power station in the OECD in a 2005 WWF report.
Many environment groups have long called for the closure of the station. It is seen as a necessary step for Australia to meet its targets in the Paris climate agreement. The four power stations in the Latrobe Valley are responsible for nearly 50 per cent of the state’s contribution to climate change.
The Latrobe Valley community has also experienced the adverse effects of coal mining. In 2014, the Hazelwood mine fire blanketed Morwell in thick smoke for more than a month. A subsequent inquiry found that the fire contributed to an increase in premature deaths in the Latrobe Valley.
“We support the closure of the Hazelwood for the health and safety for those in the Latrobe Valley and to make way for more renewable energy,” Dr Zirnsak said.
The church has been working towards a safe climate by reducing its energy use and believes phasing out coal and transitioning to a renewable energy future is essential for lowering global greenhouse gas emissions.