Residents of the town of Collie, Western Australia, who have grown accustomed to living and working among coal mines and massive coal-fired power stations find themselves at a historic crossroads.
- WA to close coal-fired power plants by 2029
- They are located in Collie, a town with rich coal ties
- Residents are not surprised by the decision and have mixed feelings about the future
After years of consideration, the The WA government has announced it will close the city’s two coal-fired power stations by the end of 2029, instead of investing billions of dollars in renewables and storage.
The news came as no surprise to locals, who watched as cities elsewhere in the country are struggling with the drying up of their main life force as Australia embarked on a renewable energy future.
But third-generation coal 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 at Collie so we can train people to work in that industry.
“So far there has been nothing.”
The government said around 1,200 employees in and around Collie would be affected by its decision.
Labor MP for Collie Preston, Jodie Hanns, said it was a “quite difficult” day for the local community which has thrived on coal mining since the 1920s.
But she said locals weren’t naive.
“We’ve known this has been happening for a very long time,” she said.
“[Coal] has certainly not passed its expiry date, there is still a role for coal in the future.”
Ms Hanns said residents were unwilling to give up their established way of life.
“They’re not looking for a FIFO lifestyle and so the future here is to create the opportunities for workers and for the community to thrive in the future,” she said.
Tourism to accompany the rebirth of the city
Collie Visitor Center manager Janine Page said the town has been preparing for change for a long time.
“I think for the families involved, there will always be a bit of nervousness,” she said.
Ms Page said 27,000 people had stopped by the visitor center in the past year, the highest number on record.
“Tourism has picked up all over Collie for the past two years already and we have more [projects] also planned,” she said.
Bike shop owner Erik Mellegers said he has benefited from the state government’s investment in local mountain bike trails.
He said the end of coal-fired power generation in heavy industry in the decade could change the consumption habits of city residents.
“Tourism is not going to replace industry – but there could be a whole range of things that will replace what coal leaves behind,” he said.
“But at the end of the day, we need to see the industry stay in Collie for Collie to thrive in the short term.”
Mr Mellegers said it seemed logical that some people would leave town because of the change.
“Collie is a pretty tight-knit community – there’s a lot of positivity out there for a lot of people,” he said.
“But at the same time, a lot of people are very afraid to wonder what the future holds for them and that could see them making decisions that might not be good for the city.”
Collie County Chairperson Sarah Stanley said tourism could co-exist with the industrial sector.
“Tourism is an obvious sector for us (…) but it is only one and it is not even the most important one that we focus on,” she said.
“It was a quick and easy win for us and much needed in the early stages of our economic diversification.
“The next step is to bring together these brand new industries that we haven’t seen before.”
Over $500 million in support
The WA government said it would spend over $500 million to create ‘blue collar’ jobs in the local community, including:
- $300 million to dismantle power plants, which would provide continued jobs for years after closure
- $200 million for the Collie Industrial Transition Fund to attract major projects and new industries to the city
- $47.8 million in other new training initiatives to transition the local workforce
He said $115 million had also already been invested in the Collie Futures Fund since the McGowan government came to power in 2016.
WA Premier Mark McGowan said while some workers he spoke to during a visit to Muja Power Station on Tuesday were disappointed, the government had made its intentions clear.
“People expected it,” he said.
“They know what’s going on with the demand for coal. They’re just very happy that they had enough time to plan.”
The government’s investment in Collie comes as it juggles another transition plan to support its ban on native logging by 2024.
Its $80 million compensation package and investment in softwood plantations have elicited mixed reactions from residents of southwestern WA logging townsof which Collie is also a part.
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