As the federal government seeks to revive coal-fired energy generation, the state government of Victoria has unveiled its latest policy to support the transition away from the fossil fuel, in the Latrobe Valley – a region built up around some of Australia’s largest, dirtiest and oldest coal-fired generators, Hazelwood and Yallourn.
The $5 million dollar policy, launched by the Labor Andrews government on Tuesday, will offer eligible households in the area tailored energy saving packages worth up to $4,500, including options to install rooftop solar, solar hot water and energy efficient lighting.
The government says the program will put rooftop solar or solar hot water on up to 1,000 low-income homes in the Latrobe City, Wellington and Baw Baw region, to assist local families with driving down energy bills.
In launching the scheme, state energy and climate minister Lily D’ambrosio said it was also intended to support skills development and generate business in the Latrobe Valley and wider region, by tapping local business, trades and products.
“As part of our record investment in the transition and development of the greater Latrobe Valley area, this program will provide real and long-term help with energy bills and ease the pressure on vulnerable households, while boosting business for local workers,” said the member for Eastern Victoria, Harriet Shing.
The focus on the Latrobe Valley comes as one of its major industries powers down, with the the Engie-owned 1.5MW Hazelwood power station slated to shut down in March.
Engie, which is majority-owned by the French government, confirmed the closure of the plant in November 2016, after conceding that it had neither the social licence nor the economic grounds to continue operating it.
The Victorian government, while expecting Engie’s decision, was criticised by some for failing to have a long-term strategic plan already in place to transition the region’s economy away from coal.
But Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, told reporters at the time that he was confident the collaborative and cooperative approach that was now being taken by the state and federal governments would meet the needs of the Latrobe Valley community, and help set it up for a more prosperous future.
On top of the federal government’s $43 million support package, the Andrews government has dedicated $20 million to establish the Latrobe Valley Authority, with an office in Morwell to give community members advice and provide feedback, while acting as “an important listening post” for the state government.
Another $22 million was set aside for personalised support, tafe training and financial and emotional counselling for the 750 sacked Hazelwood workers.