Sunday, November 9, 2008

Power workers disdainful of 'airy-fairy corporate welfare'

WORKERS in the Latrobe Valley have lost faith in Premier John Brumby's efforts to boost jobs, develop cleaner energy and help the region through an uncertain future.

The Gippsland Trades and Labour Council, representing 12,000 workers, has accused the Brumby Government of providing "airy-fairy corporate welfare" to so-called "clean coal" projects that appear to be in limbo.

In a meeting with Energy Minister Peter Batchelor later this month, the council will detail its complaints about the Government's energy policies. The council fears for the future of the proposed 400-megawatt new brown coal power station announced by the State Government in July.

The Federal Government's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, which will put a price on greenhouse gases, has caused uncertainty in the Latrobe Valley, home to Victoria's major source of electricity: heavily polluting brown coal power stations. The council wants the State Government to secure the valley's future with commitments to renewable energy and by closing old power stations and building cleaner ones.

"Show me the plan," said council secretary John Parker. "Show me where the power generation for 2020 is going to come from. The maintenance on all these old plants is shocking. They are breaking down all the time. The maintenance companies and workers tell us they are only patching them up. They are power houses of shame."

The $750 million new brown coal power station is to be built by HRL, part of the former State Electricity Commission, and Chinese company Harbin Power Engineering. Mr Batchelor said it would create 300 jobs in construction and 36 ongoing jobs. The Government says the project is a "clean coal" power station because its technology will produce 30% less greenhouse gases. The plant will emit 72 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over its 30-year life, according to Government figures.

Mr Parker requested a meeting with Mr Batchelor because of concerns the power station would be built in China and shipped to Australia, leaving no local construction jobs (and Mr Parker believes the 36 permanent jobs would barely "soak up" the jobs now being lost in the valley's power industry). There is also talk of HRL asking the State Government for a special road for the plant and free land.

HRL spokeswoman Maria Brejcha would only say that the site for the project and other details had not been finalised. The company last nominated a starting date of 2012-13. The State Government said payment of its $50 million Energy Technology Innovation Strategy grant to HRL was dependent on the company reaching certain milestones.

In August, lawyers acting for a coalition of environment groups said the HRL-Harbin plant would not be eligible for assistance under the Federal Government's emissions scheme and could face pollution costs of $50 million. This would make it difficult for the new power station to compete on the electricity market with more efficient plants, such as Origin's proposed $640 million gas power station at Mortlake.

Nationals state MP for Morwell Russell Northe endorsed the trade and labour council's comments. "The Latrobe Valley is sick of these projects being touted on a frequent basis and in some cases never coming to fruition," he said.

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