As the federal Liberal National government tears itself apart continuing the energy policy wars of the past decade, a worker-owner business in the Latrobe Valley, where coal is winding up, shows how ‘ordinary Australians’ working with progressive policy-makers can show the way. A Bulletin special feature on community solutions with Crystal Bevan reporting.
REDUCING OUR PLANET’S pollution and creating jobs for local Australians are important goals being met by the establishment of a cooperatively-owned solar hot water factory in Morwell, Victoria – the Earthworker Energy Manufacturing Cooperative Factory.
Founded by the Earthworker Cooperative, a worker-owner cooperative network, the Morwell factory puts in action the goal to create jobs, stimulate a transition to renewable energy and lower energy costs. The solar hot water tanks are just one part of the Earthworker Cooperative’s widening network of environmentally-friendly job creation efforts for Australian lifestyles, business and farming.
The hot water tank manufacturing facility was started as a response to the closing of the Hazelwood power station in the Latrobe Valley. With many workers from the station facing unemployment, the Morwell factory aimed to take action that the government had not. Earthworker Cooperative secretary Dan Musil told the ABC the factory aims “to set up jobs in what needs to be a just transition [to renewable energy] for the valley”.
Victorian Labor government could come to the party with public housing installs
The cooperative has been petitioning for government to install the locally-made tanks in public housing, in order to boost factory production and continue fostering the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. The initiative would provide a renewable energy source for households and benefit them from the low-costs of solar solutions, as well as providing job security for the cooperative’s workers and their families.
Cooperative members are drawing up a business plan to attract potential customers and investors to the Earthworker Energy Manufacturing Cooperative factory. Members have set-up a production line and are still gathering more material for a business case to investors, particularly to governments.
Community control of energy production
An early partnership has been with Gippy Bulk Buy, part of the Latrobe Valley Community Power Hub, supported by surrounding councils and the Victorian government. Gippy Bulk Buy aims to connect local residents to local solar energy solutions and installers of rooftop PV, batteries and Earthworker Energy-made solar hot water products. A local supplier, Jim’s Energy, will be able to install Earthworker hot water tanks for a cleaner, cheaper solution while supporting local jobs.
Working to lower energy costs for consumers, reverse downside of energy privatisation
Earthworker Cooperative’s Dan Musil said: “We are building examples of more just and sustainable workplaces and economies – solutions that can help us deal with climate change and economic resilience right here in the Valley, and across the country.
“The Latrobe Valley has directly experienced the failure of electricity industry privatisation, with the rapid unplanned closure of Hazelwood Power Station a recent example. Communities around the world are reversing electricity industry privatisation.
“We are putting power back into the hands of workers and communities, in ways that allow us to fairly address the crisis of climate change and household cost of living”.
hot water heating
can account for
one third of energy costs
Sustainability Victoria CEO Stan Krpan said that access to local renewable energy will increase the resilience of regions (Gippsland in this case) and soften the impact of energy price shocks, and reduce the region’s collective carbon footprint.
“Hot water heating can account for up to one third of total household energy use. Through this bulk-buy project, local residents can significantly reduce their power bills and support new clean-energy-manufacturing jobs.”
Other businesses on the go, support for new farmer initiatives
Besides their solar hot water initiative, the Earthworker Cooperative also launched the worker-owned Red Gum Cleaning Cooperative at the start of this year. Red Gum Cleaning provides chemical free cleaning services to homes and businesses in Melbourne, creating a safer, greener way to clean. It’s part of the cooperative’s aim to create “dignified, sustainable and healthy jobs.”
The cooperative also has plans for a Hemp Co-op. The business idea is merging a local industrial hemp cooperative with the Earthworker cooperative. The goal is to work with local Gippsland farmers to grow a sustainable crop for industrial use.
Australian hemp manufacturer Darren Christie told local media about the promise of industrial hemp. The proposal is for a new Earthworker manufacturing facility where building materials from help will be produced that are non-toxic and don’t rot. Farmers don’t have to use pesticides and all parts of the plant are used.
With these expansions, the Earthworker Cooperative aims to continue fostering dignified jobs, a sustainable future and the continued transition of Australia’s energy from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.
LEFT: Victorian Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio (L) with, Mark Richards, Earthworker Secretary Dan Musil and Latrobe City Councillor Dan Clancy at the launch of the Gippy Bulk Buy program in the Latrobe Valley. IMAGE SUPPLIED.