Planning for life beyond coal

Life beyond coal is now being widely discussed. Photo: Johanna Lynch

Community concern about the federal government’s inability to develop a coherent national energy policy was evident at the national community summit on coal power transition at Point Wolstoncroft, Lake Macquarie over February 8–9.

Between 150–200 community and environment group representatives from Gladstone, Darling Downs, the LaTrobe Valley, Lithgow, Hunter Valley and Lake Macquarie met to discuss the economic, environmental and social challenges presented by the aging fleet of coal-fired power stations in their regions. The summit was organised by the Hunter Community Environment Centre (HCEC).

The Next Economy CEO Dr Amanda Cahill stressed the importance of recognising the contributions of coal-mining communities in planning the transition. Scott McArdle, from the La Trobe Valley Authority, said bringing local people, councils, industry, education providers and governments together helped in the transition after the Hazelwood Power Station in Victoria closed.

Lachlan Rule from Beyond Zero Emissions said working collaboratively had helped the Collie community in Western Australia design a regional future beyond coal plan.

According to Dr Michael Askew from the Australian Transitions Academy, political will is being held back by fossil fuel interests and lags well behind the technical capacity renewables can now provide.

Participants raised questions about the role of the state and the need for public ownership to manage the transition.

An interstate network of coal-power regional communities was established. They will be supported by the HCEC to campaign for ash dump remediation during the transition of power stations across the country.

In a case study of pollution, Paul Winn from the HCEC pointed to research showing how the vast coal ash dumps at the Vales Point and Eraring power stations are leaching heavy metals into Lake Macquarie.

Members of the Lake Macquarie and Central Coast Coal Ash Community Alliance, who are campaigning to remediate the 60 million tonnes of stored coal ash, took part in the summit.

They are worried that a coal ash dam, located 3 kilometres away from the unique, but now closed-down Myuna Bay Sport and Recreation Park, could collapse. The loss of 20 sport and recreation jobs illustrates yet another hidden cost of failing to transition from coal-fired power stations and the need for coal-energy regions to shape the transition they need.

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