Energy from Brown Coal
The extent of the brown coal deposits was known to the Department Of Mines as early as 1875. It is the largest single deposit of brown coal in the world. It is currently being mined at the rate of 50 million tonnes per year, and will last for at least 300 years. It covers an area approximately 50 kilometres eastward from Yallourn W Power Station, and is between 8-16 kilometres in width.
The first recorded attempt to mine coal in the Latrobe Valley district was in 1874, by a partnership of three men, led by a surveyor named George T. Jones. The proposed mining lease was to be situated near Jeeralang Junction. Unsuccessful attempts were made to float a mining company to raise the necessary finance. The lack of success was related to the long distance to the new railway line.
In 1889, the Great Morwell Coal Mining Company started to experiment with making briquettes from a small Open Cut, near what is now Yallourn North. Austral Otis Company built a briquette plant in 1893-94. It was not a success and was burnt down in a bushfire. A second plant was built in 1896, but couldn’t cope with the high moisture [approximately 50%-70%] content of the coal and closed in 1899.
The Yallourn ‘A’ station was completed and operating in 1928, and continued until 1968. Several more power stations were built over the years at Yallourn, and progressively closed up until 1989. Yallourn ‘W’ and Loy Yang are the most recent and continue to operate to this day. Devastating floods in 1934 caused water from the Latrobe River to flood the Open Cut, creating a huge lake, with the coal and equipment buried beneath a sea of mud. Electricity supplies to Melbourne were threatened, so the old original Open Cut used by the Great Morwell Coal Mining Company was reopened to supply coal to the Yallourn Power Station. This Mine had closed in 1930, three years after the settlement known as ‘Brown Coal Mine’ had disappeared into its Open Cut, as a result of a landslide. It took 700 workers twenty weeks to pump the water out of the Yallourn Open Cut and up to two years to repair equipment and restore full production.
Construction of Hazelwood Power Station was taking place in 1961. The first of the proposed eight generators were in service by 1964. The remaining generators were in service by 1971. The Power Station required 7,000 tons of coal daily.
The next power station project was the giant Loy Yang project, to be located at a new Open Cut to the south-east of Traralgon. Loy Yang is the location of one of the easily accessible seams of coal, containing nearly half of the total brown coal reserves in the Latrobe Valley. Construction of Loy Yang ‘A’ commenced in February 1977, with a peak workforce in mid-1983 of 3,000. The first generating unit was commissioned in September 1984, with the fourth and final unit completed early 1988.
Government approval was given in 1985 to a second, nearly identical, project known as Loy Yang ‘B’. Construction commenced in 1987 and was completed in 1992. An annual total of 31 million tonnes of brown coal is required for these two power stations, which produce approximately 40% of Victoria’s power requirements.
In 1996, the State Government announced that the electricity generation business of the State Electricity Commission would be ‘privatised’. This resulted in the Latrobe Valley Power Stations being sold to various generating companies.