Valley facing ‘years of support’

Valley facing ‘years of support’

Power plants in the Latrobe Valley.THE brown coal-dominated Latrobe Valley will need years of government assistance to diversify its economy in light of the carbon tax, a major review of the region has found.

The review by the Latrobe Valley transition committee, to be released today, argues for early action to drive investment and jobs growth in the region to offset declines in the brown coal power industry.

Numerous political leaders have visited the valley after details of the carbon tax were unveiled, including Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who told power workers they would not be ”left in the lurch”.

The transition committee was formed jointly by the federal and state governments. Its report will be used by both to help direct aid money.

The committee sets out seven strategic plans for the valley to be led by governments working with business, unions and the community, including support and transition of workers, meeting future infrastructure needs and making the area more liveable.

Amid numerous recommendations it proposes a regional workforce plan be prepared, a ”diversification fund” be set up and a low-carbon growth plan be supported.

The committee finds the greatest challenge will be absorbing displaced power workers into the labour market and replacing lost investment by diversifying the economy.

”The report’s findings indicate that without assistance from governments, the power-generation sector workforce will experience difficulty securing similar employment within the region,” it says.

The review recommends the valley should remain an ”energy hub” with low-emission uses of the region’s vast brown coal reserves through new technologies such as carbon capture and storage, along with new investments in gas and renewables.

The Latrobe Valley also has significant economic opportunities to expand its agricultural and food industries because of its high water security, the committee says, and it finds the region’s low business costs suggest potential for further growth in manufacturing and business services.

The valley has long been the centre of Victoria’s energy industry using its cheap, but highly polluting, brown coal to fuel several large power plants. Under the carbon price plan, using brown coal will become more expensive.

The plan also includes a proposal to pay to close down up to 2000 megawatts of dirty-coal power generation by 2020, with Latrobe Valley-based Hazelwood, Yallourn and EnergyBrix expressing interest.

Regional Australia Minister Simon Crean said “despite political differences over carbon pricing, we are taking a bipartisan approach to building jobs and skills for the Latrobe Valley”.

Under the carbon plan $200 million of tax revenue will be set aside for regional structural adjustment.

Victorian Deputy Premier Peter Ryan said the report would underpin a soon-to-be-released Latrobe Valley jobs and industry road map from the state government.

Committee member Richard Elkington said the carbon price would accelerate the need for the economic transition of the Latrobe Valley and that would need support.

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