climate change energy film

The RePower Port Augusta story

One of my favourite campaign ideas in recent years is RePower Balcombe. Led by 10:10, it is a community solar project in the village at the heart of Britain’s early fracking tests. It was a bold example of reclaiming the story of a place, proactively building the alternative, and undermining the fossil fuel empire with something better.

A similar story has unfolded in Port Augusta, Australia, on an altogether larger scale. The town was home to two big coal power plants. When the community learned that they were to close, they rallied behind renewable energy instead. They wanted to protect the local economy and transition the workers into a new industry. Solar thermal was chosen, and the world’s largest solar thermal plant is due to open next year. If that wasn’t enough, the town is now home to Australia’s largest solar PV farm as well.

Port Augusta is a great story, and it also demonstrates the importance of a ‘just transition’. As we’ve seen in Britain with the Welsh mining towns, a switch away from fossil fuels can leave communities behind. Poverty can be entrenched for decades. We should learn from this, and ensure that the end of oil, coal and gas is matched by new opportunities for fossil fuel workers. The Canadian agency Iron & Earth faciliates that kind of retraining in the tar sands, and Repower Port Augusta has done it with coal in Australia. In a country that is deeply dependent on the coal industry, it sends a powerful signal that alternatives are out there and people will support them.

Here’s a short video summary of the story:

4 comments

  1. Some of Jeremy Leggett’s recent presentations (see jeremyleggett.net) make the point that oil and gas workers have lots of skills that are valuable and transfer across very readily for the new renewable industries. More should be made of this human potential, and encouraging the transition, I feel..

  2. I live in South Australia and one of the lessons learned in this example was the delay in transition.

    While the government and investors procrastinated the town suffered the loss of jobs and that feeling of hopelessness. It seems to have worked out in the end but transitioning would be better suited ‘switching’ from one source to another and maintaining the workforce and not have the delay of even a year or less between them…

    Same is true for the town 80km from Pt Augusta, called Whyalla, and investor for the steel company BHP, Sanjeev Gupta. They are installing huge renewable energy sources but there was a gap in years where the town suffered, a friend of mine personally, who ran a local motel and restaurant. Business is back in Whyalla and booming but they had to sell up and move on from the lag in time.

    Transition, great, but timing seems to also be important. Plan your coal into renewables now, not once it has run out, seems a good idea!

  3. Another quick comment and value-add is that a big supermarket chain has set up next to this spot in Pt Augusta where they run greenhouses to grow tomatoes 12-months a year and all run on renewable power and added more employment opportunities to the community…

  4. Thanks for that added perspective d’Arcy. Wherever possible the transition should be an overlap, not the destruction of one industry and the eventual emergence of a new one. That’s not necessarily easy to plan, but local and regional authorities should be aware of trends and how vulnerable employment is in their area, and working to encourage replacements.

    Good to hear about the greenhouses too.

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