Study into Collinsville coal-fired power station likely to go ahead, but locals split on jobs promises.

ABC News
August 27, 2020

Collinsville's last coal-fired power station closed in 2013, but Shine Energy wants to build a new $2 billion facility.(ABC Rural: Tom Major)

Locals in Collinsville say solar farms have not provided the jobs they hoped would flow so now they are looking at a new coal-fired power station, the subject of a $3.3 million feasibility study.

The study faced a Senate disallowance motion led by the Greens and Labor, who have slammed the study as a waste of taxpayers' money.

But most locals in Collinsville, 280 kilometres south of Townsville, say they are happy the election promise by the Coalition will be honoured.

Key points:

  • $3.3 million has been granted to test the feasibility of a new generator
  • Locals are split in favour of new coal power for Collinsville
  • Solar has been criticised for lack of employment, but the sector says a greater scale is needed to make jobs

Retailer David Evans said he believed the investment in the Shine Energy project would bring jobs back to the 1,100-strong town, which boasted a population of more than 4,000 when he opened his business in 1984.

"Basically all of the transmission networks for North Queensland centralise around Collinsville, so it's the ideal site for a power station as well," he said.
"There is a big push in the area for renewables, but I think we still need baseload power to bring security to the system.
"Ninety-five per cent of locals are supportive, definitely."

Mr Evans said the fluctuations of the global coal market, which employed hundreds of locals at the Sonoma and Collinsville mines, could be tempered with greater local coal demand.

man standing  in clothing shop
Collinsville businessman David Evans says 95 per cent of the town is in favour of a study into Shine Energy's proposed power station.

But others were more sceptical of the jobs promised and the viability of a coal-fired power station.

Wildlife carer and retired teacher Carol Cosentino said the promise of jobs ignored the realities of the town's declining skills base.

"I think [Shine Energy] have fed us a fairy story. People think it's going to be wonderful, but it's not realistic," she said.

"I don't think the feasibility study should go ahead, it's a waste of money … we don't have the skilled labour to run a power station and they won't build homes here, they'll have to build homes for them.

"Young people are geared up for the mining industry and not the power industry."

wildlife carer with possum
Wildlife carer Carol Cosentino says it's time for Collinsville to move past coal and value-add to power generated on local solar farms.(ABC Rural: Tom Major)

Renewable jobs face scrutiny

Mr Evans said recently built solar farms in the area had failed to replace the jobs lost when the coal-fired station closed.

"The [former] Collinsville Power Station opened up with 360 jobs, the solar farms employ about six or eight people at the moment … once the solar farms develop they do not create jobs, that's the fact," he said.

The Clean Energy Council's director of energy generation, Anna Freeman, said the sector understood the sceptical public perception of her industry's pledge to create regional jobs.

"Yes, you're going to see a lot of jobs up front in construction and the jobs in operations and maintenance are significantly fewer," she said.

But Ms Freeman added the renewable energy workforce would continue to grow if transmission capacity was improved, unlocking up to 8,000 megawatts of generation.