Banks worldwide are divesting from coal. There is a right way and a wrong way to manage the transition for the towns built on coal. The wrong way means protracted, generational unemployment which, in turn, leads to increased rates of social disadvantage. A poorly managed transition can also unleash political instability that can undermine the very goals that a transition seeks to achieve - a thriving, low-carbon economy.
After the Smoke Clears is a five part radio/podcast series examining how the Latrobe Valley will end its reliance on coal and transition to renewables. Broadcast on Melbourne station 3CR, then promoted nationally through Beyond Zero Emissions and 3CR, we investigate how a community grapples with the social, political and environmental consequences involved as a country meets its targets for the Paris Agreement.
After the Smoke Clears is timed to coincide with this year’s Victorian election, to bridge the coal-rich mining towns with the vote-rich urban centres. It is part of a discussion to discover how the transition from coal can best be managed for everyone.
By drawing attention to some of the pioneering renewable projects being pursued in ‘The Valley’, After the Smoke Clears will also draw investment from urban centres into pilot schemes like micro-grids, community energy hubs and solar startups, creating local jobs.
What seems to be the problem here?
When the State Electricity Commission was privatized in the 90s beginning with Labor Leader Joan Kirner, then more aggressively under LNP’s Jeff Kennett jobs disappeared from the Valley. The whole region experienced a state of protracted economic depression. The once bustling town of Morwell became a parade of For Lease signs. Housing prices plummeted and the Valley achieved the highest level of unemployment in Victoria. By 2001 a third of all young men were unemployed1. Rates of social disadvantage were also amongst state’s highest2. Just as the Valley was getting back on its feet Hazelwood closed in 2017. There is widespread anxiety about what will happen when the generators of the other aging power stations stop spinning.
Despite large investment from state government these issues continue. There is also a feeling among some that politicians have abandoned them, preferring to court city votes. People are disillusioned with the political system.
But this is a strong and resilient community that has pursued many innovative ideas to draw city dollars. It is time these ideas and these issues were investigated and explained, to provoke debate and discussion and hopefully stoke up some political will by politicians that have for too long overlooked the Valley.