30 March, 2017
Courtesy of the Australian
Plans to transfer some staff from Hazelwood power plant to other sites are yet to be finalised, even as owner Engie begins to decommission the coal-fired station.
As the final generator was switched off yesterday, 52 years after it was turned on, workers spoke of their insecurity and fears for the Latrobe Valley.
A $20 million plan to help 150 retrenched workers remain in the power industry by promoting early-retirement packages at other generators has been agreed to by AGL and Engie — which run Loy Yang A and Loy Yang B respectively — but needs agreement from Yallourn owner EnergyAustralia and the tax office.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews visited Hazelwood yesterday to speak to workers before the final generator was turned off at 4pm, talking up the redeployment scheme as part of a $266m package to support business growth in the Latrobe Valley.
He later compared the experience to visiting Ford and Holden factories on their final days of manufacturing in Victoria.
“It is a sad period in the history of this region, it is the end of an era for those workers,” he said. “It’s important to be upfront and acknowledge these are sad and challenging times, but at the same time we are prepared to work hard to provide the practical solutions.”
Worker Troy Makepeace described the Premier’s visit as “grandstanding”, saying prospects of staying in the valley were slim, with few permanent jobs available. “Talk to the workers out there and there’s a lot of uncertainty about anyone getting a transfer position,” he said. “No one knows the logistics. No one knows when, or how many.”
Since 1964, Hazelwood has supplied up to 25 per cent of Victoria’s energy requirements and 5.4 per cent of the national energy demand. The Australian Energy Market Operator has downplayed fears of a severe drop in supply, and Mr Andrews said he was confident Victoria would remain a net exporter of electricity.
However, experts have warned the full effect of Hazelwood’s closure will not be tested until summer, although consumers already are paying more for electricity.
Opposition Leader Matthew Guy said the Premier had turned his back on the region and put the state at risk of power shortages. The Electrical Trades Union has called for Engie to commit to using existing contractors employing local labour for the decommissioning and demolition.
Organiser Peter Mooney said the worker transfer scheme needed to be expanded beyond the power industry, with broader support for staff from Hazelwood, “the beating heart of our community for 50 years”.
“People still don’t know what their futures are,” he said. “We are trying to reinforce with them that it’s not the end of the world.”