On July 17, the Adelaide-based Climate Emergency Action Network (CLEAN SA) hosted a forum in Port Augusta detailing the Zero Carbon Australia 2020 Stationary Energy Plan recently launched by Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE).
Climate activist and Socialist Alliance member Renfrey Clarke said Australia could reach 100% renewable energy within a decade using existing, available technology. With sunlight and consistent winds of suitable velocity, Port Augusta is one of the best environments in the world to support mature renewable energy technology. It could become Australia’s green energy hub.
The CLEAN forum included a screening of There’s No Future in Coal, a documentary about the Just Transition Tour through New South Wales’ coal-rich Hunter Valley in 2009.
Residents of Wilsden, a southern suburb of Port Augusta just across the estuary from the power station, showed CLEAN members the impact of coal dust and power station emissions on their lives.
Coal dust turns their rainwater black and covers the internal and external surfaces of their homes. Coal dust containing mercury, arsenic and other dangerous chemicals spreads across mangroves to be swept into the gulf on high tide.
Wilsden residents for 26 years, Jean and Ray Nayda, said the white clothing of local bowling club members was blackened when southerly winds picked up or it rained.
In April, Port Augusta newspaper the Transcontinental said the Naydas had noticed “salt and pepper”-like flakes in water drops when it rained, which turned drying laundry black.
A spokesperson from the Environment Protection Authority conceded there were no specific levels at which it defined coal dust emissions a nuisance.
Even the town’s notoriously right-wing mayor, Joy Baluch, attributes high incidences of cancer in Port Augusta to power station emissions.
Jared Thomas grew up in Port Augusta and is now an active member of CLEAN. He told Green Left Weekly: “Learning more about the impact of emissions and frustration felt by Port Augusta residents was surreal as my maternal grandparents have lived in the suburb for over 50 years.
“My father’s generation was the first to move off the mission and into the area. The land, the gulf and estuaries are of particular significance to my family, the Nukunu and other South Australian Aboriginal groups. I learned to fish and swim in the estuary like innumerable generations of Nukunu people.”
Thomas said: “Residents of Wilsden are working-class people with a good sense of community and a simple desire to be happy and healthy.
“Many of these people are not aware that fly-ash is full of heavy metals and radionucleides (naturally occurring radioactive materials) or of the way that coal burning contributes to increasing the level of carbon dioxide in the air and resultant climate change.”
Ruth Ratcliffe, a CLEAN member and Socialist Alliance Senate candidate, told GLW: “Port Augusta, with its ideal environment for renewable energy and concern amongst its residents regarding the impact of coal-fired power stations, must serve as a centre for fostering understanding and resolve to ensure that the transition to 100% renewable energy is instituted immediately.
“CLEAN will work with Port Augusta residents to build a strong community campaign to close down the power station and build a clean, green renewable energy future for the town.”