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Anglesea coal mine and power plant closed after community pressure

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... though the scar on the land will take generations to heal (Image via @RichardDiNatale)

Down near famous Bell's Beach, a major step forward in the fight against climate change has occurred, with the closure of one of Australia's most notoriously polluting coal mines and powerplants. Lachlan Barker reports.

Down on the south western coast of Victoria, not far from world famous Bells Beach, a major step forward in the fight against climate change in Australia has occurred. Anglesea Power Station and the nearby coal mine that fed it, both owned and operated by U.S. multinational Alcoa, are to be closed.

Local community action group, Surf Coast Air Action (SCAA), have been pressuring for some years now for this and so have warmly welcomed Alcoa’s announcement that it will permanently close Anglesea coal mine and power station on 31 August 2015. SCAA’s major objection to this station and mine has been air pollution, with the fumes from the stack regularly fouling the otherwise pristine air of this beautiful coast.

The Anglesea coal plant produces over three times more SO2 than even the notoriously polluting Hazelwood power plant in the Latrobe Valley, despite Hazelwood producing ten times more power than Anglesea.

As SCAA spokesperson Dr Jacinta Morahan said:

The health impacts of coal mining and combustion are well documented so Alcoa’s announcement is fantastic news for public health on the Surf Coast.

Permanent closure is however the first step and SCAA will continue advocating for proper rehabilitation of the mine and plant and for Alcoa to make sure that the remaining Anglesea workers are properly looked after.

While SCAA welcome the closure, they are mindful of the Alcoa employees’ future and, as SCAA spokesperson Andrew Laird added:

This is a great outcome for the Anglesea community and for clean air in Australia. It also shows that coal impacted communities can achieve big things when they work together.

While we are delighted that the redundant facility will finally close we are also very mindful about the remaining workers and call upon Alcoa to make sure that those who don't wish to take a redundancy package are deployed onto the massive rehabilitation task.

SCAA spokesperson Mark Smith also contributed on the topic of mine rehabilitation:

Proper rehabilitation of the National Estate listed Anglesea Heath will be a huge task. It also provides great opportunities for a win-win outcome as coal mine rehabilitation is a job rich activity.

Anglesea power station and mine were commissioned in 1969 to provide power to the former Point Henry smelter in Geelong that closed in August 2014. At this point, the community of Anglesea had high hopes that Alcoa would now close the station and mine immediately, as its power was no longer required by Port Henry. However, those opposed to the mine and station were then bitterly disappointed when Alcoa announced they would keep the station open while they tried to sell it.

SCAA conducted community surveys when Point Henry smelter was closed and the surveys revealed that 82% of those surveyed wanted the mine and power plant shut down and rehabilitated, with the remainder almost evenly split between undecided or against closure.

The final closure announcement by Alcoa brings to an end Alcoa’s attempted sale process that had dragged on for almost 15 months.

While the closure of Anglesea will not materially affect Australia’s appalling greenhouse gas equation, reducing it by only 0.2%, it is clearly very powerful symbolically.

Newly elected Federal Greens Leader Richard Di Natale commented on the Anglesea closure, saying:

The closure of this polluting operation is a big win for the local community and for the safe climate we all rely on. We’re talking about school children, local residents and businesses who will now have a cleaner and healthier future with less asthma, less heart disease, and fewer cancers.

The closure of Anglesea throws most doubt on the future of Hazelwood Power station in the Latrobe Valley. Hazelwood was the site of the appalling mine fire in February 2014, which so badly affected the health and livelihoods of those living nearby.

Earlier this year IA provided an article based on information shown to me by Environment Victoria. This information, from the Australian Electricity market Operator, AEMO, indicated that there was excess power in the National Electricity Market, 7,500 megawatts. Thus it was possible for some power stations across the Eastern states to be closed without interruption to supply.

In Victoria, the two power stations listed in that article were Anglesea and Hazelwood. Both these stations burn brown coal, the dirtiest coal.

As Senator Di Natale adds:

With Anglesea down, Hazelwood will be next and the Greens are standing here with a plan to make sure workers aren’t left high and dry.

We’re ready to help people take advantage of all the jobs to be had in decommissioning power plants, rehabilitating mine sites and accelerating large-scale renewable energy projects.

The 2015 federal budget will be a complete failure unless it addresses the fact that the coal age is over and workers need our help.

These remarks echo the frustration those concerned with the environment – and climate change in particular – have felt all along with the Abbott Government. The simplest answer to greenhouse gas emissions is to burn less fossil fuels. Yet the Abbott Government continued to prop up this dirty last century industry by any means possible. Let’s never forget the prime minister’s “coal is good for humanity” announcement.

However, there was always the feeling that the future of coal in Australia would not be settled by the announcements of Australian politicians, but by global financial forces. And this, it seems, has now come to pass. Even with all the support provided by the Federal Government for coal, Anglesea still closed down.

We can only look with interest now to see which station will be next. It may be Hazelwood in Victoria, but Liddell in NSW is also a possibility; even Queensland’s largest power station, Gladstone, could be on the list.

However, in the final analysis, the message of Anglesea is now clear: industries must gain a social licence to operate. Without one, community pressure will close polluting industries down.

Lachlan Barker blogs at cyclonecharlie88.blogspot.com.au. You can follow him on Twitter @cyclonecharlie8.

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