Adelaide takes to street for solar in Port Augusta

Repower Port Augusta rally, September 30. Photo: South Australian Student Environment Network

Fifteen hundred people rallied on September 30 in Adelaide to support solar thermal power in Port Augusta to replace the ageing coal stations, set to retire.

They welcomed about 80 people who walked the 328-kilometre journey from Port Augusta to draw attention to the issue. Protesters rallied to show their support for a switch to solar thermal and becoming a world leader in renewable energy, rather than replacing dirty coal with gas.

Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, media personality and scientist, was the MC for the rally. He warned of the dangers of coal and gas and spoke of the economic, environmental and health benefits solar thermal.

He said Port Augusta’s consistent strong winds and excellent levels of sunlight were highly suitable for implementing the transition to solar thermal technology. Dr Kruszelnicki highlighted the continuously rising gas prices compared with solar thermal, which will cost less in the long run due to no ongoing fuel costs. Most importantly, it would produce virtually zero emissions.

Arctic ice caps continue to melt in an alarming fashion, reaching levels that have dangerous implications for the future of the planet. Solar thermal provides a viable alternative to address the effects of the climate crisis — and the technology is ready to be implemented now.

Port Augusta residents have long borne the brunt of the health impacts from the town’s two coal-powered plants. High levels of air pollution have caused double the state average of lung cancer cases as well as elevated rates of bronchitis, sinus problems and childhood asthma.

Overwhelming community support was shown in a poll run by locals in July, when 4053 residents voted for solar power, compared with 43 for gas.

Port Augusta Mayor Joy Baluch, whose husband died of lung cancer and who is now battling cancer herself, told the rally to continue its people power to help win the campaign.

Port Augusta sits at a crossroads as to whether to replace coal with a combined cycle fossil gas plant or six solar thermal plants and 95 wind turbines.

The mounting campaign backed by the local community, councils, local businesses and a growing number of unions, health organisations and business groups support the solar thermal alternative.

By contrast, gas-fired power — which is sold as the clean and green alternative — emits about half the emissions of coal, according to Mark Diesendorf’s book Greenhouse Solutions with Sustainable Energy.

Gas will continue the warming of the Earth through its greenhouse gas emissions. This simply cannot be afforded if the climate crisis and the business as usual mentality is to be confronted.

Further, a 2010 US Environmental Protection Agency report confirmed studies that gas will leak throughout production, processing and distribution. A new gas-fired power station in Port Augusta would also likely use coal seam gas (CSG). Chemicals used in CSG production are destructive to the environment. It can also contaminate local water systems and produce air pollution, posing further health risks to the community.

Furthermore, gas needs far fewer workers than its renewable counterpart, meaning fewer jobs for current workers. Building solar in Port Augusta would create 1300 extra construction jobs and 225 manufacturing jobs in South Australia.

With evidence pointing to the environmental, economic and health benefits of solar thermal, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young at the rally called on state and federal politicians to listen to the community and growing number of voices pushing for the renewable alternative.

This will be imperative if the mounting threat of climate change and the interests of big business that profit from polluting are to be challenged.

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