Creating the jobs of the future will require smart land use planning

FUTURE ENERGY: AGL's head of government and community relations Tony Chappel speaking at the Land Use Futures: Upper Hunter forum.
FUTURE ENERGY: AGL's head of government and community relations Tony Chappel speaking at the Land Use Futures: Upper Hunter forum.

Now is the time to start planning for future land uses that will create sustainable jobs for the next generation.

That was one of the main messages to come out of a forum ‘Land Use Futures: Upper Hunter’ held recently at Muswellbrook and although the focus was on the Upper Hunter many of the themes and discussion topics could easily be applied to other regions.

One message repeated throughout the day was failure to make strategic plans now could result in regions facing similar problems to those of Victoria’s Latrobe Valley where the closure of the Hazelwood power plant and news of the possible closure of the Morwell sawmill will result in significant job losses.

Manufacturing, mining, energy and agricultural jobs are changing as their respective industries either close, reach the end of their productive life or become more technically demanding or export orientated.

Making strategic plans in the area of land use, education, training and research will be vital to make us competitive and make the best use of our natural resources.

With a special focus on future land uses the forum heard from a number of speakers on their company’s plans, opportunities available for food exports in China and what the government should do to protect existing internationally recognised agricultural industries.

Providing an insight into the future of AGL’s power stations in the Hunter most notably Liddell was the company’s’s head of government and community relations Tony Chappel.

Mr Chappel was previously chief of staff to former NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes. AGL’s public image  took a hammering in the Hunter and especially at Gloucester with its development of coal seam gas  (CSG).

The company relinquished its CSG licences and has since turned its attention to traditional power generation with purchase of Liddell and Bayswater power stations and the development of solar farms in western NSW.

AGL have announced they will close Liddell in 2022 and Mr Chappel says they are currently investigating rehabilitation of the site and its re-purposing.

He expects a report on the future of the asset to be released in August this year. Liddell is located between Singleton and Muswellbrook has access to a large volume of high security water and it has potential as a site for intensive agricultural industries such as chicken farms.

AGL has been in discussion with Cordina Farms one of Australia’s oldest privately owned food businesses based in Sydney and supplied chicken products including free range eggs. Other possibilities for the power station apart of intensive agriculture could include refitting of the facility to generate power not from coal but from bio-mass. Speakers talked about the transition of England’s largest coal powered plant Drax in West Yorkshire to a bio-mass power generator. 

This idea was enthusiastically promoted by Muswellbrook Mayor Martin Rush who is keen to see both the development of high value intensive agricultural industries in his shire and a bio-mass power plant.

The development of bio-mass generation was described at the forum as creating a ‘bi-economy’ or sustainable green economy that resulted in no waste products being produced.

In Europe there are now 19,000 bio-gas power plants mostly found on agricultural operations.

“But there is not one commercial bio-mass power plant operating in Australia even Syria has seven such plants operating so its about time this country looked at developing these type of power plants,” said Richard Bush, International Centre Balanced Land Use (ICBLU), University of Newcastle. “There is new wealth to be found from waste we can no longer afford to have a linear economy that produces waste – we have to use that waste to power our future economy.”