‘There are a lot of people who are very scared’: Coal Town reacts to industry deadline

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.

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.

The coal mines employed four generations of the Paul Moyses family.(ABC News: Anthony Pancia)

“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.

A wooden tower with the name "Collie" on a sign on top.
Collie Power Station will be closed by October 2027.(ABC News: Hugh Sando)

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.”

Three politicians stand behind a microphone with gray clouds in the background
Jodie Hanns announced the historic decision at Muja Power Station.(ABC Southwest: Sam Bold)

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.

A woman wearing a blue shirt and a black sweater stands behind a desk
Janine Page says Collie is rebranding itself as a competitive tourist destination.(ABC Southwest: Sam Bold)

“I think for the families involved, there will always be a bit of nervousness,” she said.

A mural painted on a massive brick dam wall
A mural spread across a dam wall near Collie has become a popular tourist attraction.(ABC Southwest: Sam Bold)

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.

A man in a blue shirt leans on a bicycle
Erik Mellegers is happy with the way the government has handled the transition so far.(ABC Southwest: Sam Bold)

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.”

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