Port Augusta ready for solar thermal power

September 21, 2011
Photo courtesy of Robyn Waite.

Activists from the Climate Emergency Action Network (CLEAN) in Adelaide, accompanied by Mark Ogge from Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE), went on a road trip to Port Augusta over September 15 to 18 to campaign for solar thermal power.

Port Augusta’s two ageing coal-fired power stations, Northern and Playford B, are due to be replaced in the near future.

CLEAN and BZE argue that concentrating solar thermal power plants are the logical way forward for Port Augusta and its workforce.

Mark Ogge told Green Left Weekly: “There is a big opportunity to actually get some solar thermal built in Port Augusta, because a range of factors line up perfectly — you have a coal power station that is likely to be closing down soon, a great solar resource with perfect weather conditions and an easily convertible workforce.

“The people employed by the coal-fired power station could be employed in solar thermal plants as a lot of the jobs are the same.

“There is also a crucial political opportunity at the moment with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation’s $10 billion clean energy fund, which is part of the carbon tax package, as well as funding to close down 2000 megawatts of coal-fired power stations.”

Ogge presented these ideas to the Port Augusta Council in a special meeting. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

In an exciting development, the council agreed to support and promote a public forum in Port Augusta on October 29, where Ogge and local speakers will present the solar thermal option to the local community.

Over the weekend, CLEAN and BZE ran street stalls, erected displays and carried out door-knocking in Port Augusta, spreading the word about this new, clean technology that provides baseload power.

The activists forged connections with union delegates, the Port Augusta Business Association, church groups, local teachers and health workers.

“The response from the community was really encouraging,” said CLEAN activist Gemma Weedall.

“People are a lot more open to the idea of renewables than on our previous trips. They know that Alinta, the company that owns the plant, is looking for alternatives.

“When we tell people about the workforce potential of solar thermal, they really get interested.”

BZE estimates that replacing both power stations with solar thermal would create about 1300 jobs in the construction phase and 250 ongoing operations and maintenance positions, similar to the size of the current coal-fired power station workforce.

The weekend was an affirmation of the importance of grassroots campaigning. Most people approached in Port Augusta were fed up with the health problems associated with coal dust, but were not aware of the clean, solar thermal alternative.

The use of display boards with big pictures of the 24-hour power Gemasolar plant, now operating in Spain, was an effective way to inspire an alternative vision of Port Augusta’s future.

“It’s really great that grassroots activists are out there doing the hard work building community support for this vision because we’re never going to win this unless we get the community on side,” said Ogge.

“You can have all the meetings with ministers that you like, but there is no substitute for genuine community engagement.”

[BZE and CLEAN will return to Port Augusta on October 29 for a public presentation and forum at the Cooinda Club, 3.30pm to 5pm. For details phone Gemma on 0437 714 786.]

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