Billion-dollar Indigenous-led power station to revive struggling Queensland coal town.

ABC News
June 18, 2019

A proposed $2 billion Indigenous-led coal-fired power station in Collinsville in North Queensland — developed by Brisbane-based Indigenous company Shine Energy and headed by traditional Biri man Ashley Dodd — is set to revive one of the country's oldest coal towns.

If the project is given the go-ahead, about 2,000 jobs would be created during the construction phase and 600 once operations begin, with a focus on Indigenous employment.

The potential employment boost would be welcomed by the locals who say the community is dying after a 50 per cent decline in the population over the past decade.

However, some locals fear the project is just "a drawing on a wall" and will experience the same lengthy delays as the Galilee Basin's Adani project.

Shine Energy Australia said if it does get the tick of approval, the Collinsville project would be the first high efficient low emission ultra supercritical coal-fired power plant in the country.

"We're actually looking at developing this as an energy park, so we are looking at building a solar PV farm that goes towards the energy so we use it as auxiliary power," Mr Dodd said.

The construction would coincide with the closure of New South Wales Liddel Thermal Power Plant in 2022 and would enable North Queensland to address the gap the plant would leave in baseload power supply.

Solar Farm lining the road just outside Collinsville

PHOTO: A solar farm just outside Collinsville where Shine Energy are hoping to build a coal-fired power station.

However, even if the project stacks up, it could still take a decade for construction to be completed.

Queensland's Labor Government is holding strong on its commitment to 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030, and Australian Conservation Foundation spokesman Gavan McFadzean said the Collinsville project was simply not needed.

"We shouldn't be pitching our economic prosperity and jobs to the industries of the past, they should be to the future," Mr McFazdean said.

"This project just does not pass the test when it comes to clean energy.

"Collinsville has some of the best solar radiation capacity anywhere on the planet so that's where we think the future of Queensland's energy needs are and that's where the Queensland Government thinks it's future is."

There is a shift globally around coal-fired plants with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announcing recently that he would contribute $US500 million ($715 million) toward closing coal-fired plants across the United States saying it was a race against time with climate change.

What will the project mean for Collinsville?

Collinsville is one of the oldest coal towns in Australia and locals say the project is needed to help return the town to its former glory.

"We quite simply cannot survive without it and heavy industry can't survive without affordable power," businessman Trevor Anderson said.

While other businesses have been shutting their doors, he and partner Eileen have re-built a 37-bed motel after it was decimated by Cyclone Debbie.

"We have confidence in the future here," Mr Anderson said.

Local Monique Sibson has grown up in the town and said the community had changed beyond recognition.

"We don't have a lot going on in Collinsville ... it's a bit of a sad time at the moment," she said.

It's a similar story in the neighbouring town of Bowen, where the main street — once a bustling hub of activity — is now littered with vacant shop signs.

"We lost the meat works, we lost the power station, we had a restructure in the coal mine, so we lost over 2,000 jobs in this particular area," Whitsunday Councillor Mike Brunker said.

"The general man in the street can't work out how you are simply going to shut off coal in 2030, 2040, 2050. I think coal has got a huge lifetime yet," he said.

"You just can't go and punch a coal miner in the mouth and say 'we don't want you anymore', like we felt was happening in the last election."

The potential for the power station was touted during the federal election with the promise of a $10 million feasibility study — a move welcomed by federal member for Capricornia Michelle Landry.

"It's about how to move forward with that if it's worth doing … what the cost factor will be and how many people will be involved with it," Ms Landry said.

"So I think it's extremely important."

Bowen businessman Tony Doyle.

PHOTO: Tony Doyle says he would welcome a major coal project to revive business in the region. (ABC News: Sally Rafferty)

But with other projects, like Adani, which had experienced major approval delays, locals like Tony Doyle are not holding their breath.

"If it stacks up and someone is willing to do it and there is political will to do it ... but at the moment I think it's just a drawing on a wall, to be honest," Mr Doyle said.

"We always hold out hope — when I was a young fella and the power station was firing, there were no vacant shops in Bowen, there was plenty of people around, plenty of people earning money and Collinsville was firing along nicely."

Shine Energy CEO Ashley Dodd said he is confident the project will get the backing from investors.

"We've had discussions with Credit Swisse anywhere between the $2 billion mark there is a lot of interest out there in the equity and debt market," Mr Dodd said.

"There is plenty of interest outside Australia but it would be great to have the national banks of Australia actually step up and commit to their reconciliation action plan."

Credit: Sally Rafferty