May 16 2024

Just Transition: Case Studies Highlight Work Underway

With the recent introduction of legislation to establish a Net Zero Economic Authority, there has been a renewed focus on how coal-fired power station operators are supporting their employees through the transition. We take a look at four transition program case studies, that are in progress or emerging, to highlight some of the efforts the industry is already making in this space to prepare workers for the future

Background

Australia is currently in the midst of one of the world’s fastest electricity system transformations. Long dependant on coal-power electricity generation, and far more than many other developed countries, by 2035 about 90 per cent of the National Electricity Market's coal fleet is forecast to have withdrawn from the grid, according to the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO).

While this energy transition will create many new economic and employment opportunities, the move away from emissions-intensive industries will have a profound impact on the workers and regional communities that have hosted large-scale fossil fuel generation.

To help navigate these impacts, in 2022, the Australian Energy Council (AEC) published a report that drew on past domestic and international experiences to outline what Australia could do to ensure a fair and just transition. It highlighted that there is no-silver bullet approach to conducting a just transition, rather, there is a need for a whole-of-society effort tailored to the particular circumstances of each community.[i] The recent passage of the Net Zero Economic Authority forms an important part of a whole-of-society focus, but that does not mean industry has remained idle in this area. In fact, the industry has been taking proactive measures to support their workers well before the Authority’s passage.

We surveyed four transition programs – covering each jurisdiction with coal-fired power generation – that are currently underway within the industry

Synergy: Workforce Transition Program

In 2022, the Western Australian Government announced the state would end its involvement in coal power by 2030, citing the need to transition to more renewable and sustainable generation and storage.

Synergy, Western Australia’s largest energy retailer and generator, has since committed to closing both of its coal-fired power stations within the decade. Muja Power Station will close in 2029 after 63 years in operation, and Collie Power station will close in 2027 after opening in 1999.

As these power stations have been part of the Collie community for over 50 years, Synergy has sought to work hand-in-hand with employees and contractors impacted by the planned closures through its Workforce Transition Program.

This program has focused on providing personalised transition plans for those impacted by the closure, aiming to provide genuine support through a just transition. David Fyfe, Synergy’s Chief Executive said they are focused on creating a supportive and just transition for team members, their families and local communities, with Synergy being a “people first organisation” who “focuses on each impacted person’s unique circumstances.’ David Fyfe also added that “employees affected by the known closure dates of Synergy coal-fired power stations have transition plans in place.”

Such plans include tailored support, services, and resources to transition along one of several pathways:

  • A new role within Synergy
  • Further opportunities beyond Synergy
  • Retirement

Brett England, a Sustainable Technician, is just one of many success stories from Synergy’s Workforce Transition Program. Brett formerly was an electrical fitter at Western Australia’s Muja Power Station but now works with Synergy’s Future Energy Transition Team.

“My redeployment came after I accepted a secondment to work on the first Kwinana Battery Energy Storage System and subsequently gained a permanent role onsite,” Mr England said.

“As part of my personal transition, I have achieved a Diploma in Project Management, and I am currently studying for an Advanced Diploma Electrical Engineering.”

“I am glad I was given this exciting opportunity to be able to spread my wings and learn something new as part of my transition.”

Origin Energy: Future Directions Program

In February 2022, Origin Energy submitted notice to the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) for the potential early retirement of Eraring in August 2025.

Eraring is Australia’s largest power station, and Origin’s only coal-fired power station and is located on the western shore of Lake Macquarie in NSW. The power station was fully commissioned in 1984 and accounts for approximately 25 per cent of New South Wales’ power requirements.

To assist in the closure, Origin set up a dedicated people transition support program for employees in 2022, called the Future Directions program. This program follows Origin’s commitment to “support our people through the energy transition, providing career planning and upskilling, and seeking redeployment opportunities for those whose roles are directly affected by the transition”[ii], with the intent to help employees right up until Eraring’s closure.

This Future Directions program has been guided by three key pillars:

Comms & Change: For our people to feel listened to, respected, supported and valued via ongoing communication and consultation.
Future capabilities: To go ‘above & beyond’ in supporting individuals to achieve future career and life choice goals.
Health, wellbeing & ER: To keep health and wellbeing front of mind, and to ensure our workforce transition plans are phased and transparent.

The Future Directions program is tailored to individuals and prioritises flexibility. Through an individual support plan, members of the Eraring workforce can pursue:

  • University reskilling opportunities.
  • Trade and TAFE education.
  • Support for setting up a small business.
  • Retirement support.

Those undergoing the program receive career coaching and a check-in roughly every six-months with employees able to change their minds if their initial chosen pathway was not working for them.

Origin’s Future Directions team highlighted that allowing for flexibility of choice was important and highlighted examples of employees who, supported by the program, were able to pursue setting up a small business.

In another example, an employee who had worked at Eraring for eight years, starting as an apprentice fitter and working their way up to a maintenance coordinator, had been able to start an associate degree in engineering through the Future Directions program.  

According to the employee it has been “a door opener to a lot of different opportunities in the future and the starting point of going through to get an honours degree in engineering”.

“For me, the Future Directions team have helped me consider my options and better understand the doors that this degree can open in the future”.

EnergyAustralia: “Power your future” Program

In March 2021, Energy Australia announced its intention to close the Yallourn Power Station by 2028. One of Australia’s oldest power stations, Yallourn provides a fifth of Victoria’s power supply and enough power for up to 2 million homes in the state.

In collaboration with the Victorian State Government, Energy Australia has sought to ensure an orderly transition. Committing to engage and support every employee who will be impacted by the closure, including collaborating with contractors, EnergyAustralia launched the $10 million “Power Your Future” program.

Launched in November 2022, the program aims to provide the support needed to all those who call Yallourn home to find a new job, become self-employed or retire. Specifically, the program provides:

  • Personalised career plans
  • Support for all reasonable training identified by the employee
  • Individual career coaching
  • Financial advice and planning
  • Small business seed funding; and
  • Links to employment opportunities and redeployment assistance.

With more than 60 per cent of current employees indicating they wished to continue residing in the region, EnergyAustralia has sought to ensure there are local replacement job opportunities. For instance, EnergyAustralia has partnered with the burgeoning offshore wind industry, which is located within the Gippsland region, and has committed to engage with workers wishing to redeploy to such projects to acquire the necessary skills.

We spoke with Chantel Leahy, a member of Yallourn’s maintenance team who is a spare a parts coordinator and is participating in the program. With the help provided by Energy Australia, Chantel has been able to study a Bachelor of Nursing/Midwifery at Federation University to prepare her for employment following Yallourn’s closure in 2028.

Chantel appreciated the flexible nature of the program which allowed for her to be supported in her education alongside her work at Yallourn, saying, “If it was not for the program, I would not have had the opportunity.”

CS Energy’s transition activities

CS Energy is a Queensland government-owned corporation with an energy portfolio that includes coal-fired power stations, renewable energy, firming and battery storage assets.

CS Energy has been working with its employees and unions through the Callide Futures Group (CFG) since 2021 to plan for the future at its oldest site, the coal-fired Callide B Power Station.

The release of the Queensland Government’s Queensland Energy and Jobs Plan in 2022 provided further confidence to employees that they will be supported through the energy transformation.

The QEJP included a $150 million Job Security Guarantee to ensure that workers at energy Government Owned Corporations have a job pathway option available to them and that they are encouraged to choose a pathway that best meets their personal circumstances.

CS Energy, along with other Government Owned energy companies, unions and the Queensland Government signed a Queensland Energy Workers’ Charter that creates an enduring framework and sets out principles and actions to support workers.

Even prior to receiving support through the Queensland Jobs Security Guarantee, CS Energy had proactively engaged in a comprehensive survey with all Callide employees to gauge their preferences regarding transition opportunities.

The survey results reflected a notable interest among respondents in various transition pathways, including:

  • Exploring opportunities outside of CS Energy
  • Embracing flexible working arrangements such as part-time employment, job sharing, or transitioning into retirement
  • Pursuing reskilling or upskilling initiatives to enhance relevance in their current roles or transition into positions within the renewable energy sector.

Based on the insights from this survey, the CFG has sought to create a set of transition support options to help employees with:

  • Reskilling
  • Upskilling
  • Career transition, internally or externally.
  • Relocation assistance
  • Financial advice and support
  • Health and wellbeing support

Additionally, a Transition Business Partner role has been established at the Callide Power Station. This position is tasked with conducting personalised transition discussions with each worker to facilitate their journey.

Alongside this, CS Energy is launching their Amplify Program which is aimed at helping provide all employees build and develop skills in renewable technology and provide a secure pathway to the future. This program intends to provide:

  • Training courses that enhance the technical capability of employees in future energy.
  • Secondary opportunities to an external partner at another facility to work alongside experts.
  • Study tours of specific sites or facilities that enhance operational knowledge.

 


[i] Strategen, ‘Just Transition: Navigating Australia’s Energy Transition’, November 2022.

[ii] https://www.originenergy.com.au/wp-content/uploads/Climate-Transition-Action-Plan-2022_FINAL.pdf

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