Hunter communities must embrace renewable transition to shape their future

On a week where the world's biggest thermal coal exporter Glencore is talking about capping annual coal production at 2019 levels to "transition for a low-carbon economy"  then we know we are living through changing energy times.

Glencore's boss Ivan Glasenberg said we believe this transition is a key part of the global response to the increasing risks posed by climate change. 

We must invest in assets that will be resilient to regulatory, physical and operational risks related to climate change, he said.

This transition is well and truly underway, although in some regions of the country faster than others, for example Port Augusta in South Australia, once very much reliant on coal and coal fired power for its economic survival, is now the epicentre of a multi billion dollar renewable energy investment rush.

A Founding member of Repower Port Augusta and city councillor Lisa Lumsden was in Singleton last week as a guest speaker at the Hunter Renewal Summit.

"We never thought the change in our economy would come so quickly and for every region like ours including the Hunter Valley it is inevitable that we are transitioning to renewable energy," she said.

"Currently we have five billion dollars worth of renewable projects planned for the Port Augusta region - solar thermal, hyro, wind and batteries."

The transition has not been easy and not without its headaches but Ms Lumsden said is was driven by their community not reliant on politicians.

The owners of their local coal fired power station Alinta told the community in February 2015 they would be operating till around 2030. However the mine and power station were both closed within 12 months with a loss of 450 local jobs.

"Three generations of our community had worked in the coal industry in well paid and secure employment but our aging plant and mine were no longer competitive with renewable energy," she said.

"It was inevitable the change would come and the community wanted to live with clean air and clean power. Our community based Repower Port Augusta played a very important role within the community and at state and federal level ensuring we attracted new investment," she said.

Her advice to the Hunter Valley is to start planning now because this change is coming faster than anyone expects.

"What we found in Port Augusta was if the community was willing and ready to accept the change then it was likely to be a much easier transition than suddenly finding yourself  with no plans for the future and a coal industry ceasing to exist," she said.

Artists rendering of the Aurora Solar Thermal Plant to be built 30km from Port Augusta in South Australia.

Artists rendering of the Aurora Solar Thermal Plant to be built 30km from Port Augusta in South Australia.