Job losses will result from 11 years of Coalition government policy on the environment, Gippsland Trades and Labour Council (GTLC) secretary John Parker told Green Left Weekly on September 26. He said Australia has been left 11 years behind in developing clean energy technology, which means instead of now being able to export these technologies, the industry has moved overseas. Employment opportunities are wasted and inevitably jobs will be lost as our own dirty industries are forced to close.
Gippsland's Latrobe Valley is home to Victoria's three big brown-coal-fired power stations. "The Australian coal industry is one of the dirtiest in the world", Parker said. The GTLC "has been calling for the closure of the old Hazelwood and Morwell power stations for five years. If they had not been privatised, this would have already happened." They are old and inefficient, well past the average 30-year lifespan for a coal power station.
According to Parker, all the unions in the area, "even the miners", agree that there is no such thing as "clean coal". Nevertheless, he said a modern plant would only produce a quarter of the greenhouse emissions compared with Hazelwood. GTLC is calling for the building of a new, more efficient power station to replace the old ones for an interim period while renewables and efficiency measures are implemented to make coal power obsolete.
The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union's mining division has as policy to triple renewable energy from Australia's current 8% to 24% by 2020, Parker explained. GTLC advocates the increased use of renewable energy combined with energy efficiency measures. Specifically, Parker mentioned compulsory efficiency standards for household appliances, and planning regulations to ensure new housing estates are built in energy-efficient configurations, unlike many current developments.
Renewable power generation is logical in the Latrobe Valley because the energy grid and work force already exist. This still has to be supplemented by generation in distant parts of the state such as the north and west. Parker said that every kilowatt used at somewhere as far as Mildura requires two kilowatts to be generated in the valley, because so much is lost in transmission. This means that building renewable generation infrastructure at a distance (such as the very successful Ararat wind farm) has double the effect.
Wind farms in the Gippsland area have been controversial, and the planned Bald Hills wind farm was abandoned after locals campaigned against it. "Many state government initiatives in the area which could be positive", Parker said, "are opposed by residents because of the lack of consultation, which the National Party in the area then whips up into a campaign". The first wind farm in Gippsland was a pilot built in the middle of the historic town of Wonthaggi, which Parker says looks out of place and helped turn many locals off further wind power developments who would not have otherwise opposed them. The Victorian government plan to build a desalination plant at Wonthaggi was also made without proper consultation, he said, and the National Party is now leading the push against it.
The day before Parker spoke to GLW, a GTLC seminar on unions and the environment was held, which discussed many of these issues. The conference, which was mainly attended by union officials and GTLC delegates, aims to spark broader debate in the union movement and is pushing for the Victorian Trades Hall Council to organise a broader conference on these themes.