Lake Macquarie energy industry

22nd March 2022

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (18:51): Almost 14 years ago to the day, not long after I was first elected to the New South Wales Parliament, I stood on this very spot in this Chamber during question time and asked then Premier Morris Iemma about the recommendations of the Unsworth Energy Consultative Reference Committee. As I have done numerous times since, I raised questions about the way energy is produced in New South Wales. I argued against the privatisation of our power industries—as did you, Madam Temporary Speaker. I warned about the impacts climate change would have on our coal industry and the need to create a transition authority for communities reliant on coal and power generation. I also warned about the rapid global shift in energy markets that will have huge impacts on areas such as Lake Macquarie, which is so invested in coal and coal-fired power generation.

Of course I was not alone, and of course I was speaking out of self-interest, because Lake Macquarie is home not only to some very significant coalmining operations but also to Eraring Power Station, which provides more than 22 per cent of the State's power. In fact, it is Australia's largest power station. Within those industries are thousands of local jobs. Last month Origin Energy announced that it would likely close Eraring Power Station in 2025—seven years earlier than anticipated. I had personally expected that Eraring's closure might come a few years earlier than its 2032 closure date, perhaps in 2028 or thereabouts. However, that closure will now likely take place just 41 months from now. It does not really matter what your views are on climate change, although mine are well known. Sadly, successive governments—and indeed many in the community—spent too much time arguing about climate change and wind turbines to realise how quickly world energy markets were changing and shifting away from fossil fuels. Even more sadly, we are now starting our transition many years behind where we should have been.

Eraring directly employs almost 500 employees and contractors. Many more work in related industries. For example, Centennial Coal, which operates the nearby Mandalong and Myuna collieries, employs almost 1,000 staff, many of them highly skilled and highly paid. Centennial's biggest customer is Eraring Power Station so this closure will have a significant impact on it as well. On a positive note, Origin has assured me that it intends to remain on the Eraring site and become a renewable energy powerhouse. It also remains committed to dealing with coal legacy issues, such as ash, well into the future. Last year Origin announced plans to install a 700-megawatt battery on the Eraring site, which will go some way towards ensuring stability in the State's power grid.

It is also examining options for hydro or hydrogen energy production on the site, along with other options such as solar. Those are all good, but renewable energy production does not create the same number of jobs as coal-fired energy production. Lake Macquarie needs massive investment from the State and Federal governments not only in the renewable energy production sector but also in the infrastructure needed to attract new, high-tech, well-paying jobs of the future. That requires investment in roads, health and our natural environment. Now is the time for the State Government to invest in overdue infrastructure so that the Lake Macquarie community can have the best chance of being a major player in the new world of renewable energy. I acknowledge that I have had a number of meetings with the Treasurer and energy Minister. He is aware of the issues faced by Lake Macquarie and, indeed, other parts of the Hunter region that are on the same difficult road as Lake Macquarie. I recognise the member for Upper Hunter, David Layzell, who has similar concerns for his community.

To its credit, last year the Government responded to calls from me and other Hunter MPs to create a Hunter-Central Coast Renewable Energy Zone. Not surprisingly, private commercial interests have already flagged more than $100 billion worth of potential investment in renewable energy and storage projects in the Hunter-Central Coast Renewable Energy Zone, including pumped hydro as well as large-scale battery, solar and wind projects. Of course, not all of those speculative projects will get off the ground, but it shows the private sector is ready to invest and forge ahead with projects in Lake Macquarie and the region because of its existing access to the grid and its highly skilled workforce. We need the infrastructure to get them across the line. We need the attention of the Government, both State and Federal, to create clear pathways for that investment and a transition authority to steer the region in the future. Lake Macquarie and the Hunter more broadly has been the engine room of the State's economy for a very long time. The region has done the heavy lifting and kept the State's lights on for the best part of a century. It cannot be left in the dark now.

Website: Read the Parliamentary Hansard here

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