Hope ‘sweeps through’ Austalia’s renewables industry but coal remains a major export | World News


Behind a straggly row of eucalyptus trees a monstrous pit has cleaved the countryside in two.

Mountains of slag line the edges of a black hole and the largest trucks you’ve ever seen remove layers of earth to reach the precious commodity beneath: coal.

We’re in Australia’s Hunter Valley, a region rich in natural resources.

It’s also at the heart of a debate about the country’s future climate change policy.

A new Labor government has come to power with a bold ambition to transform Australia’s reputation for climate denial and delay and turn it into an international role model.

It’s pledging to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 43% – a considerably deeper cut than the previous liberal coalition’s target of 26-28%.

Labor is also aiming to convert more than 80% of the country’s power to renewables by 2030 and spend more than £11bn upgrading the national grid.

We have come to the Hunter Valley to find out how Labor’s plans might affect a community which has depended on extracting fossil fuels for generations.

Nathan Dennis works in the mines and so does his father. When we meet him he’s just finished four overnight shifts and is grabbing a bacon and egg roll on his way home.

The Hunter Valley is rich in natural resources
The Hunter Valley is rich in natural resources

Mr Dennis says he’s not overly concerned about the future of mining despite the election results, because coal is one of the country’s most important exports.

“I’m pretty sure that we’ve got about 80 years of coal in the ground so that’s going to see out me and my son,” he says.

It’s not an unusual view in a place like Singleton with its population of 25,000 people.

Mining is the biggest employer: driving trucks in the pit can earn you up to £100,000 a year.

Without the industry, Singleton would be a “ghost town”, Mr Dennis says.

“Alot of people wouldn’t have the stuff they have without mining,” he explains. “We wouldn’t have Pizza Hut, McDonald’s and seven pubs.”

Brian Craighead says 'hope is sweeping through' the renewables industry
Brian Craighead says ‘hope is sweeping through’ the renewables industry

In most rural towns there is hardly any traffic at seven in the morning. But peak hour in Singleton could be Sydney.

Mining trucks, semi-trailers and the ubiquitous Australian utes (utility vehicles) are bumper to bumper heading in and out of town as the night shift ends and the day one begins.

It’s the ebb and flow of life in a mining town.

But some young people, worn out by long shifts and worried about job security in an ever greener world, are starting to jump ship.

Nathan Berryman grew up in Newcastle, a city with a proud industrial history.

After working as a mine electrician he has switched to the renewables industry, taking a job with electric battery manufacturer Energy Renaissance.

“I remember when I first started, a lot of the tradesmen who were in their fifties and sixties said you don’t want to be here when you’re our age,” he says.

“They know what the industry is like. It’s a hard life but it’s rewarding and they were concerned about the longevity (of the job) and the locality.”

Nathan Berryman (left) did not want a job working far from his family and friends
Nathan Berryman (left) did not want a job working far from his family and friends

Mr Berryman did not want to end up as a fly-in-fly-out employee, working far from his family and friends in a remote camp in the middle of the desert. So he took his future into his own hands.

His boss Brian Craighead, founder of Energy Renaissance, says his industry is on the cusp of proud change.

“For several years it felt like we were in the wilderness (but) now hope is sweeping through the country,” Mr Craighead says.

“We were stymied all the time by politicians denying basic science so now I think the voters have spoken pretty clearly, and they want this.”

So as Australia charts a new course, tackling the great challenge of our lifetime, those still working in the resources sector may ask: what is coming?

And at the cafes and pubs in far flung towns there are rumblings of a transition to renewable energy.

And if the winds of change are coming, some may do better by getting ahead of them.


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