People in the Western Australian town of Collie who have grown accustomed to living and working between coal mines and huge coal-fired power stations find themselves at a historic crossroads.
Most important points:
- WA to close its own coal plants by 2029
- They are based in Collie, a town with rich ties to coal
- Locals are not surprised by the decision and have mixed feelings about the future
After years of contemplation, The WA government announced it would close the city’s two coal-fired power stations by the end of 2029, plowing billions of dollars into renewable energy and storage instead.
The news comes as no surprise to locals, who have been watching cities elsewhere in the country struggle with the drying up of their main lifeline while Australia faced a renewable energy future.
But third-generation miner Paul Moyses said the WA government’s decision would change the fabric of the city.
“We need to know what kind of industry we’re going to get here in Collie to train people to work in that industry.
“Nothing has happened so far.”
The government said about 1,200 employees in and around Collie would be affected by the decision.
Collie Preston Labor MP Jodie Hanns said it was a “pretty rough” day for the local community, which has thrived on mining since the 1920s.
But she said the locals weren’t naive.
“We’ve known for a long time that this is coming,” she said.
†[Coal] the best before date has certainly not passed, there is still a role to play for coal in the future.”
Ms Hanns said residents are reluctant to give up their established lifestyle.
“They are not looking for a FIFO lifestyle and so the future is here to create opportunities for the workers and for the community to thrive well into the future,” she said.
Tourism helps the city’s rebirth
Collie Visitor Center manager Janine Page said the city had long been preparing for change.
“I think for the families involved there will always be a little bit of nervousness,” she said.
Ms Page said 27,000 people had stopped at the visitor center in the past year, the highest number ever.
“Tourism has been picking up all over Collie in recent years and we have more [projects] also planned,” she says.
Bike shop owner Erik Mellegers said he had benefited from the state government’s investment in local mountain bike trails.
He said the end of coal-fired power generation in heavy industry could change the spending habits of people in the city within the decade.
“Tourism won’t replace industry, but there could be a whole host of things that will replace what coal leaves behind,” he said.
“But ultimately we need to make sure that the industry stays in Collie in order for Collie to thrive in the short term.”
Mr Mellegers said it seemed logical that some people would leave the city because of the change.
“Collie is a pretty tight-knit community — there’s a lot of positivity moving forward for a lot of people,” he said.
“But at the same time, there are a lot of people who are very afraid of wondering what the future will bring for them and that they can make decisions that might not be good for the city.”
Collie shire president Sarah Stanley said tourism could coexist with the industrial sector.
“Tourism is an obvious sector for us… but it’s only one and it’s not even the biggest we’re targeting,” she said.
“It was a quick and easy win for us and very necessary in the early stages of our economic diversification.
“The next stage is to collect those brand new industries that we haven’t seen before.”
More than $500 million in support
The WA government said it would spend more than $500 million to create “blue collar” jobs in the local community, including:
- $300 million to decommission the power plants, which would provide employment for years to come
- $200 million for the Collie Industrial Transition Fund to bring major projects and new industries to the city
- $47.8 million in other new training initiatives to transfer the local workforce
It said $115 million had already been invested in the Collie Futures Fund since the McGowan government came to power in 2016.
WA Prime Minister Mark McGowan said that while some workers he spoke to during a visit to the Muja plant on Tuesday were disappointed, the government had made its intentions clear.
“People expected this,” he said.
“They know what’s going on with the demand for coal. They’re just really happy that they’ve had enough time to plan.”
The government’s investment in Collie comes as it juggles another transition plan to support the native forest clearing ban by 2024.
The $80 million compensation package and softwood planting investment has: elicited mixed reactions from people in timber villages in southwest WAwhich Collie is also a part of.
#people #afraid #Coal #City #responds #industry #deadline