Port Augusta’s solar thermal future

Aerial view of the Gemasolar concentrated solar thermal plant in Spain.

Port Augusta Mayor Joy Baluch gave the speech below at an October 29 community forum sponsored by the Climate Emergency Action Network SA, Beyond Zero Emissions and the Port Augusta City Council.

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Australian history shows that visionaries are few and far between when it comes to building the infrastructure of this nation.

In the depths of the world depression, Prime Minister Andrew Fisher constructed the trans Australian railway by establishing the Commonwealth Bank.

In 1949, Prime Minister Ben Chifley initiated the greatest engineering feat in the nation using new and unknown technology to undertake the construction of the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric scheme, which took 25 years to complete.

One hundred percent renewable energy with zero emissions is achievable in Australia within 10 years if we had a government with the necessary attributes to take concerted action.

However, cutting down tall poppies has become a national sport and political correctness has both clouded our judgement and made us into followers instead of leaders.

There is no better time than the present for a statesman to emerge and drag this nation out of the political morass into which it has sunk and move Australia into the 21st century.

We are on the brink of a technological revolution that is beyond our comprehension and solar thermal power is just one part of it.

The fact is, therefore, that we have to be masters of our own destiny.

With out natural advantage Australia can and should be positioning itself as a global super power for future prosperity.

No city has more to gain from this shift to renewable clean energy than Port Augusta.

It has first rate resources of solar power, dependable sea breezes and an existing high capacity grid connection … all of the ingredients to become an energy hub.

Solar thermal plants are baseload solar power, which use mirrors to concentrate the sun’s energy to create heat. In turn, that heat is stored to generate electricity 24 hours a day.

Solar thermal plants are a commercial off-the-shelf technology, so they are ready to go now. The materials required are concrete, glass and steel, of which this nation has an abundance.

Because they are thermal plants they have the same turbines and generators as coal-fired plants. But it would be best to commence with a greenfield site.

They can be air-cooled so will use about a tenth of the water of coal-fired plants.

There would be approximately seven power towers to replace the existing coal-fired unit and there is this great opportunity to build them now with the funding from the federal government’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

Gas plants are cheaper at first. But they still pollute the air, harm people’s health and the bottom line is that they are not labour intensive, unlike solar thermal.

Also, 30% of the nation’s gas is earmarked for domestic use. Seventy percent is tied to competitive export markets. The domestic market price will keep parallel with global oil prices, which means that the cost will continue to rise.

Baseload solar thermal plants would be a national building project — the first since the Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme.



In 1970, I entered local government on a health platform. My aim was to get the tunnel-visioned city fathers of the day to push the equally tunnelled vision state politicians to connect precipitators to [Port Augusta’s] Playford ‘A’ coal-fired power station. The station spewed 600 tonnes of fly ash over the city a year, which resulted in the rapid increase in respiratory and asthmatic problems of all age groups.

This community is now reaping the results of the past 40 years of coal emissions and medical statistics prove this.

The exercise of convincing the [then South Australian] Don Dunstan government to connect these precipitators took seven years.

Over the past 42 years, thousands of our community have died providing cheap power to this state.

The incidence of lung cancer in Port Augusta is double the state average. And it is an insult to our intelligence that the minister for health attributes these statistics to tobacco smoking.

Coal fired power stations cause lung cancer and dirty coal causes more lung cancer.

Playford station is the dirtiest power station in the nation with [Port Augusta’s other coal-fired plant] Northern a close contender.

This community cannot wait for the carbon tax or for the deposits of 2nd grade Leigh Creek coal to be exhausted.

We need a federal government with both the guts and other physical attributes to make changes now.

This will need to have bipartisan support.

The construction of a solar thermal generator in Port Augusta will lead the way for clean power generation across the nation. It will enable us to establish factories to build this new technology

Any job losses from the transition would be absorbed in the manufacturing industry,

So what price do we put on human life? The emotion of cost and job losses therefore should not enter into the equation.

Port Augusta is an AridSmart community. What we need is an AridSmart nation led by a federal government with courage and conviction to lead us into the 21st century.

You and I need to see a visionary coming out of Canberra to lead us into a sustainable future.

We therefore have to be masters of our own destiny and show that visionary that he has the support of the entire community.

Each and every one of us have a responsibility to ourselves and families to flood the letterboxes of every politician — state and federal — demanding that they put the health of our communities before all else.

This should be fully supported by academics, professionals, industry, business and especially unions. After all, their members lives are at risk.

Politicians in the three tiers of government were elected to serve us, not themselves or their political masters.

Over the past decade or more this council and community has trail blazed social issues that were too hard for the other two tiers of government. Those issues were hard fought but were adopted by other communities across the nation.

So let us commence this process now.

This could be a win-win for everyone and an opportunity for politicians of all persuasions to write their names into the history books and become leaders in clean solar thermal power generation.