Our Future: From coal community to renewable pioneers in Latrobe Valley

The closure of Victoria’s largest coal-fired power station in March, Hazelwood, was expected to unsettle the Latrobe Valley following decades of coal dependency. Instead, it transformed the region into a leading advocate for renewable energy; a shining example for other communities.

One pioneering community group is Voices of the Valley. It is advocating for community solar gardens, which local people would collectively design, build, own and benefit from. Each person would save money on their bills, while ensuring their electricity supply is stable and clean.

Latrobe City Council has also demonstrated leadership by setting up renewable energy information sessions and putting a 112-panel system on its headquarters.

The community sentiment has unquestionably shifted: from anger about the closure, to a unified understanding that coal is outdated. I have observed this while studying local newspapers in the Valley from the time the closure was announced until weeks after it occurred. Through unrelenting letters to the editor, locals have been screaming for a fresh start; not for coal to be re-introduced.

Local people backed by local organizations have ensured the Valley doesn’t remain in a state of dirty nostalgia. If a formely coal-dependant community is proactively campaigning for, and building, its own renewable energy projects then what excuse does anyone else have not to follow suit?

State governments understand this – and that’s why they’re also backing the move. The Victorian government has already set up some renewable energy community hubs, including in the Valley.

In fact, it’s only the federal government entertaining the possibility of new coal-fired power stations – outside of the coal industry. It’s way out of touch with communities who supply and use the energy.

Gene Efron is a Media & Communications Honours student at Monash University.