Over the past six years, a strong grassroots campaign has been waged to build a solar thermal power plant in Port Augusta, South Australia.
The campaign has brought together diverse stakeholders including local community members, workers, environment groups, unions and the local council. Together they have pushed for coal, the town's traditional energy source, to be replaced with solar thermal technology, which would provide baseload power for the state.
The campaign has reached a critical point, with the South Australian government set to decide in the coming weeks whether it will back the proposal.
In November last year, the SA government committed to purchasing up to 100% of its power from low-carbon energy. It was recently announced that 25% of this would be made up of renewable energy sources that use battery storage technology. A decision on where the rest will come from is expected in coming weeks. The major choice for the government is between recommissioning the mothballed Pelican Point gas-fired power station or purchasing energy from a proposed 110MW solar thermal plant with storage in Port Augusta.
Gary Rowbottom is a Port Augusta resident and former worker at the Alinta coal-fired power station, which closed in May. Following the closure of Alinta's Playford power station in 2012, it became clear to Gary, along with many other local residents that coal could not provide a long-term sustainable future for their town.
“Along came Beyond Zero Emissions with their Repowering Port Augusta report,” he said, “and after reading about it in the local paper, and then reading that report I realised … here was a power source that could store energy… [and] it was clear there were a fair few more jobs, good jobs in this technology compared to wind and solar PV. My life changed from the moment I Googled CST [concentrating solar thermal].”
Gary became engaged with the local campaign to get this technology built in his town through the successful grassroots Community Vote campaign, which put the question to Port Augusta residents whether they wanted the energy future of their town to be based on gas or solar thermal. The latter won resoundingly.
From here, he joined the local Repower Port Augusta campaign group and has fought tirelessly alongside a diverse range of community members, including nurses, teachers and local councillors.
He says that getting solar thermal built in Port Augusta would be “a huge boost to the town, the biggest thing to happen since the construction of Northern Power Station in the 1980s”, providing sustainable employment for many of the workers who recently lost their jobs as a result of the power station closure.
Gary is now the star of a powerful campaign video in which he tells his story and calls on SA Premier Jay Weatherill to make solar thermal happen. A crowdfunding campaign is underway to get this video broadcast on primetime TV.
The next few weeks will be crucial for the campaign to bring clean jobs to Port Augusta and on-demand renewable power to South Australia.
Local residents and supporters have vowed to take this opportunity to escalate the campaign, to send the message loud and clear Weatherill that he has the support of the community to make solar thermal for Port Augusta happen.
Gary's message to Weatherill is: “SA's power system needs the utility scale storage and grid-balancing ability that CST with storage brings, and the job creation value for SA and our region is something the SA government should care about. Get it done!”
[A community action will be held on September 7 at 12:30pm outside of the State Administration Centre, 200 Victoria Square, Adelaide.]