Australia’s coal-ﬁred power stations will all close in the next two or three decades. We know this because the companies that operate the 23 power stations currently operating nation-wide have told us so.
Despite the empty rhetoric of some, it is unlikely that the economic case for investing in new coal-ﬁred power stations in Australia will stack up. Those who currently own and operate coal power stations have no plans to build new ones.
The bad news is that the transition in how we produce power will bring great change to the workers and communities we have relied on to provide Australian homes and industry with reliable energy over many decades.
The good news is that we have the lead time to make smart decisions about what that change looks like — or at least, we now have the lead time after being caught unprepared by earlier closures, including Hazelwood in 2017.
We have the choice to manage this structural economic change so that individuals, families and regions aren’t abandoned to unemployment, low-value jobs, poverty and associated health and social decline. Even better, we have the evidence about what works to deliver just transitions for coal power workers and communities, with skills, jobs, opportunities and hope for the future.
Communities grow around power stations and the mines that supply them. They are unique communities bonded in many cases by history, geography, difﬁcult and dangerous work-ing conditions and good unionised jobs. They are also uniquely vulnerable in their heavy dependence on the coal power industry.
This analysis of transitions in resource economies internationally and here in Australia pro-vides valuable insights into the ingredients of success and the wide scope of outcomes.
The Appalachian region in the United States is a heart-breaking story of industry transition characterised by short-term, reactive and fragmented responses to closures of coal mines, resulting in entrenched, intergenerational poverty and social dysfunction.
Compare this with the transition away from a heavy reliance on coal mining in Germany’s Ruhr region, where forward planning, investment in industry diversiﬁcation, staggering of mine closures and a comprehensive package of just transition measures delivered a major reshaping of the regional economy with no forced job losses.
Central to these vastly different outcomes is the presence of a national, coordinated response. To this end, a major recommendation of this report is the establishment of a national, independent statutory authority to plan, coordinate and manage the transition.
In the energy debate to date, the impact of the transition on workers and communities has been almost completely ignored. This is an omission we can’t afford. After all, the costs of investing in a Just Transition need to be balanced against the costs of doing nothing and abandoning whole communities to a bleak future.
While global trends suggest that Australian export coal for steelmaking and energy pro-duction will be in demand for decades to come, coal-ﬁred power generation in Australia is winding down. On the information available, there are no excuses for not taking action to protect the best interests of those affected.
I call on all power industry stakeholders to engage with its ﬁndings and consider how we can work together to deliver a Just Transition for coal power workers and communities.
We welcome this important piece of work conducted by Peter Sheldon and the team at UNSW Sydney’s Industrial Relations Research Centre.