Hazelwood’s eight-chimney salute


By Slavko Planinic, ABB Australia managing director

The chimney felling is a moment for reflection on all Australians have achieved with a power system built for the 20th century and all we can now become.

The scale and complexity of decommissioning Victoria’s Hazelwood coal-fired power station was somewhat overshadowed by the spectacular felling of its 137-metre chimney stacks last week. To bring eight towering concrete structures, each the height of a 30-storey building, to ground in sequence could easily be seen as the central triumphant moment of necessary demolition.

But the project has been years in the planning for us at ABB, as consultants to plant owner ENGIE on the technical, engineering and safety aspects of returning the entire Hazelwood site to the community. We believe this is the biggest power station to have been decommissioned in the world to date—and ABB comes from the position of having supported other countries, particularly the UK, over decades of transitioning their power systems away from fossil fuels towards a cleaner future.

The toppling of Hazelwood’s chimneys is symbolic of change that recognises the part coal has played in power generation—the plant and adjacent open-cut brown coal mine have contributed to Australia’s prosperity for more than 50 years.

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There was a time when we thought only a new coal-fired plant could reasonably replace Hazelwood’s almost two-gigawatt capacity, which supplied 25 per cent of Victoria’s electricity needs. But renewable energy has flowed from the country’s rooftops, wind farms and solar farms at such a rate and at ever-reducing cost, to inspire confidence in no-emissions alternatives at a time when the world needs them most.

We salute the hard work that the people of Morwell and the La Trobe Valley have invested in making the country tick. At ABB we’re using advanced digital technologies and automation to wring the greatest efficiency from Australia’s remaining coal-fired fleet; our predictive maintenance provides energy companies with insights to keep their aging assets running as reliably as possible before their inevitable retirement.

We recognise that our customers and communities are at different stages of divesting their coal-fired assets, and overall ABB is committed to operating as a sustainable company that makes access to our planet’s resources safer and smarter. Even as we support and optimise coal and gas generating plant throughout its productive life, our digital innovations are enabling greater energy efficiency for industrial & commercial sites and managing renewables-based portfolios to meet industry needs.

ABB has contributed to Australia’s energy ambitions since the late 19th century; and is set to play its part in Australia’s hydrogen liquefaction revolution. With ABB to provide the instrumentation and electrification solutions to power Australia’s first Hydrogen Liquefaction and Loading Terminal at the Port of Hastings in Victoria. The project is part of a ‘world-first’ Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain (HESC) pilot project based in the Latrobe Valley.

We’re proud to contribute to energy systems from conception to demolition. While there’s excitement and optimism in planning and building new plant, there’s responsibility in working through the risks and challenges of safely returning retired sites for new economic or community uses.

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In the future, we might ask one another, “Where were you when Hazelwood’s chimneys fell?” And our people will answer without irony or astonishment that they were contributing from thousands of kilometres away.

Environmental analyses of the blast, conducted by independent hygienists have confirmed that the demolition resulted in no asbestos fibre impacts beyond the designated site, and that despite considerable plumes of dust raised by the falling chimneys, air quality at the site’s perimeter remained of a good standard—our combined extensive planning and calculations met their primary objective of safety for all people in the district.

Australia has a way to go to decarbonise its energy system. Within the next 10 years, the Australian Energy Market Operator is planning for the closure of Liddell (NSW), Vales Point (NSW) and Gladstone (Queensland) power stations; Yallourn in Victoria may join them before its scheduled retirement in 2032. In all, 14 GW of the country’s coal-fired generation will reach the end of its technical life by 2040.

The closure and decommissioning of Hazelwood feels central to the country’s transition, the felling of the chimneys a moment for reflection on all Australians have achieved with a power system built for the 20th century, and all we can now become.

Built in the 1960s, the eight chimneys of the Hazelwood coal-fired power station have been knocked down as part of the plant’s demolition. ABB is consulting to plant owner ENGIE on the technical, engineering and safety aspects of returning the entire Hazelwood site to the community.

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