Residents said they were stressed and anxious about what will happen when the plant closes. (ABC News: Emma Younger)
Residents of Victoria’s Latrobe Valley are calling for a staged closure of the Hazelwood power station, warning there will be catastrophic consequences for the local community.
Hundreds of workers are expected to lose their jobs when the French company Engie closes the station, which was widely regarded as one of the dirtiest coal plants in the country.
At a community rally at Morwell, the State Government was urged to keep the plant open, with locals like Bill McMahon warning of serious consequences if the closure goes ahead at the end of March.
“There’s going to be catastrophic consequences for the economy in the Latrobe Valley,” he said.
“It’s not just the 900-odd employees but it’s the contractors, all the ancillary businesses throughout the valley in Traralgon, Moe, Morwell.
“Our ambition today is to stop the closure of Hazelwood power station. My message to the State Government is to plan this thing better.”
Lee Mackay’s husband has worked at Hazelwood for six years.
“He was promised a job until 2025, so the sudden closure has been a shock,” she said.
“We’re really worried about it. We’re really stressed and anxious. It’s like a rollercoaster ride. The unknown is very worrying.”
The plant employs about 750 people, with 450 direct employees and 300 contractors.
The company said about 250 workers would remain at the power station between 2017 and 2023 to manage the site’s rehabilitation.
ENGIE chief executive in Australia, Alex Keisser, said the 1,600-megawatt power station was no longer economically viable.
‘Exciting’ announcements for Latrobe Valley
Local Liberal MP Russell Northe said the Labor Government first flagged the closure seven years ago.
“We’re talking about a month away and many workers and families don’t know what the future holds for them and that’s not good enough,” he said.
“We know there’s a lot of training packages available for workers but at the end of the day unless they’ve got real jobs to go to, it doesn’t provide any support or assistance to them.
“It’s just mind-boggling that seven years later after Labor announced someone would close Hazelwood, there’s no real plan for these workers, contractors and local businesses.”
The Government said a staged closure would increase energy bills by 25 per cent.
Premier Daniel Andrews visited the region last week and said the Government was close to announcing a plan to offer 150 workers jobs at other power plants in the Latrobe Valley.
“Our job is to support those workers. We’ve established a Latrobe Valley fund. We’ve established the Latrobe Valley Authority,” he said.
“I’ll have some exciting announcements to make about infrastructure and jobs, new businesses and new opportunities down in the alley over the weeks and months ahead.
“It’s a big job, our thoughts are with those workers but more than that our actions and our hard work is with those workers and those families.”