Hazelwood fire puts energy choices into focus

ZAH_fire_LW-20140223224157919506-620x349After more than a month of proliferating injurious levels of fine-particle matter across the town of Morwell the Hazelwood coal mine fire has failed to convince state and federal governments of the dangers of coal power.

In response, Yes 2 Renewables supporter Ben Courtice wrote the The Moorabool News to remind us of the clean and existing alternatives to the already evidenced risks of coal use and production.

Currently, the Hazelwood coalmine is burning, and probably will for weeks to come. Once coal seams catch fire, they are very hard to put out.

Residents in nearby towns, especially Morwell, have seen their Air Quality Index top 1300. The level at which it is considered “very poor” is 150.

This index is a measure of various pollutants, which include dangerous levels of the toxic gas carbon monoxide; and high levels of particulate pollution in the PM10 and PM2.5 categories (and no doubt smaller particles, too).

These particulates are a direct danger to health, as they are breathed deep into the lungs – especially the finer particles – and can be a serious health risk for people with existing lung and heart diseases. Children, whose lungs are still developing, are also at great risk. Some particles can be carcinogenic, so there is no “safe” level of exposure.

I feel for the people of Morwell, and it’s incredible that the mine operator GDF Suez allowed this to happen.

Moorabool residents would do well to reflect on this. The same risk of fire is present in any exposed coal seam, on top of the inevitable year-round dust. Let’s make sure we don’t get another coal mine in our shire.

This disaster is in stark contrast to the latest report of the National Health and Medical Research Council, which has found (yet again) zero evidence that wind farms cause health problems due to noise.

This state has the worlds most draconian restrictions on wind farm development (supported by a tiny but vocal minority, often in the Letters page here). Our federal government has appointed a “review” committee into the Renewable Energy Target that looks more like a lynch mob than a review.

Choosing not to allow clean renewable energy is choosing coal. This mine fire is the worst of the worst of coal, but it’s part of the package. Let’s bear that in mind when our government seeks to restrict the options that could reduce our dependence on the world’s dirtiest fuel.


Last week Friends of the Earth urged Prime Minister Tony Abbott to visit Morwell and provide Commonwealth support for the community. The Prime Minister has failed to visit the community despite the fact the Hazelwood coal mine fire has burned for nearly a month.

Perhaps the Prime Minister Abbott needs some encouragement… Leave a quick message > http://www.pm.gov.au/contact-your-pm

Sample message:

The Hon Prime Minister Tony Abbott,

A fire at the Hazelwood coal mine burned for a month. 

You have been noticeably absent on the crisis, Prime Minister. Given your track record of fighting fires and recent trip to drought affected parts of the country, it has surprised many that you have not visited the area to reassure communities in the Latrobe Valley.

The Morwell primary school has been evacuated due to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide and particulate matter in the air. Some 25,000 face marks have been distributed to residents of Morewell and Taralgon to filter out coal ash. Vulnerable Morwell residents have been told to evacuate of face serious health impacts.

Your absence lends weight to critics who believe your government has the double standard regarding fossil fuels and renewable energy. This perception can be corrected.

Will you visit Morwell to inspect the Hazelwood fire site and speak with locals affected? 

Will you accept the National Health and Medical Research Council findings that wind energy is clean and safe? 

Will you withdraw funding for another wind energy and health study and reallocate the funds to investigate the health impacts of the Hazelwood fire? 

I look forward to a response from the Office of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Click here to send the PM a message...
Click here to send the PM a message…

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