Hazelwood by Tom Doig [7/10]

A decade and a half ago, I joined a tour of the Hazelwood coal-fired power station, two hours east of Melbourne in the coal-smoke-engulfed Latrobe Valley. I was researching renewable energy. Hazelwood impressed me not at all; it was shabby and dirty. Burning the most carboniferous brown coal of all, Hazelwood was an icon of global warming evil. New Zealand writer and journalist Tom Doig has now written a riveting account of the 2014 coal fires, and “Hazelwood” can stand as an eagle-eyed epitaph to that sorry pile of scrap. Assembling a stellar array of local eyewitness, Doig dramatizes the forty-five days of uncontrollable fire, the heroism and inept officialdom, the illness-wracked aftermath, and the eventual taxpayer imposts. He writes with great panache and verve, and by leaving himself out of the story altogether, creates a tense tale that makes for a breathless single-night read. I was especially taken by how venal the plant’s operator, GDF Suez (later rebadged as Engie) was, before, during, and after the horrific blaze. Engie eventually just walked away from the mess by closing Hazelwood down, and if there is any silver lining to that sorry saga, it is that maybe planet Earth was spared a certain amount of emissions. Grab Hazelwood, it’s a must-read.

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