People in the Western Australian town of Collie who have become used to living and working amongst coal mines and massive coal-fired power plants are at a historic crossroads.
- WA will close its stand-owned coal power plants by 2029
- They are located in Collie, a town with rich ties to coal
- Locals are not surprised by the decision and have mixed feelings about the future
After years of contemplation, the WA Government has announced it would shut the town’s two coal-fired power stations by the end of 2029, instead ploughing billions of dollars into renewable energy and storage.
The news has not come as a surprise to locals, who have watched as towns elsewhere in the country grapple with their main lifeblood drying up as Australia moved into a renewable energy future.
But third-generation coal miner Paul Moyses said the WA government’s decision would change the fabric of the town.
“We have to know what sort of industry we are going to get here in Collie to be able to train people up to work in that industry.
“Up until now there has been nothing.”
The government said about 1,200 staff in and around Collie would be affected by its decision.
Collie Preston Labor MP Jodie Hanns said it was a “pretty tough” day for the local community which has thrived off coal mining since the 1920s.
But she said locals were not naive.
“We’ve known this is coming for a very long time,” she said.
“[Coal] is definitely not past its used by date, there is still a role to play for coal into the future.”
Ms Hanns said residents were not keen to abandon their well-established lifestyles.
“They’re not looking for a FIFO lifestyle and so the future here is to create the opportunities for the workers and for the community to thrive well into the future,” she said.
Tourism to assist town’s rebirth
Collie Visitor Center manager Janine Page said the town had long been preparing for change.
“I think for the families involved with it there’s always going to be a little 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 been picking up throughout Collie over the past couple of years already and we have more [projects] planned as well,” she said.
Bike shop owner Erik Mellegers said he had benefited from the state government’s investment into local mountain bike trails.
He said the end of heavy industry coal-fired power generation within the decade could adjust people’s spending habits in town.
“Tourism isn’t going to replace industry – but there might be a whole range of things that will replace what coal leaves behind,” he said.
“But ultimately we need to see industry stay in Collie for Collie to be thriving in the short term.”
Mr Mellegers said it seemed logical some people would leave town because of the change.
“Collie is a pretty tight-knit community – there’s a lot of positivity going forward for a lot of people,” he said.
“But at the same time there’s a lot of people very scared wondering what the future will hold for them and that could see them make decisions that might not be great for the town.”
Collie shire president Sarah Stanley said tourism could co-exist with the industrial sector.
“Tourism is an obvious sector for us … but it’s only one and it’s not even the biggest one we’re focusing on,” she said.
“It was a quick easy win for us and very necessary in the early stages of our economic diversification.
“The next stage is gathering those brand new industries that we haven’t seen before.”
More than $500 million in support
The WA Government said it would spend more than $500 million to create “blue collar” jobs in the local community, including:
- $300 million to decommission the power plants, which would provide ongoing employment for years after the shut down
- $200 million for the Collie Industrial Transition Fund to attract major projects and new industries to town
- $47.8 million in other new training initiatives to transition the local workforce
It 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 the Muja power plant on Tuesday were disappointed, the government had made its intentions clear.
“People were expecting this,” he said.
“They know what’s happening with demand for coal. They’re just very happy they’ve been given enough time to plan.”
The government’s investment in Collie comes as it juggles another transition plan to support its ban on native forest logging by 2024.
Its $80 million compensation package and investment in towards softwood plantations has stirred mixed reactions from people in timber towns in WA’s South West, of which Collie is also a part.
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