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Coal communities urgently want governments to step up and support clean energy transition and coal clean-up: poll

As Australia’s ageing fleet of coal-burning power stations move closer to closure, an overwhelming majority of people polled in the Latrobe Valley in Victoria and Hunter region of NSW agree that state and federal governments need to urgently step up to support both coal communities and industries to transition to clean energy.

The new polling comes as Australia's top polluter AGL prepares to deliver its 'market update' tomorrow, expected to include new climate targets and an earlier closure date for Loy Yang power station in the Latrobe Valley.

The YouGov poll, conducted for Environment Victoria and Nature Conservation Council of NSW, surveyed 600 people across the Latrobe Valley in Victoria and Hunter Valley in New South Wales.

It found a strong appetite for governments to take a more active role in supporting both communities and industry to transition to renewable energy, including ensuring that companies take responsibility for the toxic legacy of their coal power stations and mines.

The poll found that, across Hunter and Latrobe Valley:

  • More than three quarters (76%) agreed that governments should do more to transition from burning coal to renewable sources of power to meet our future energy needs.

In Victoria’s Latrobe Valley:

  • Nine out ten (90%) respondents agreed that as Victoria’s coal burning power stations and coal mines are closed down, the state government should ensure power station owners are responsible for the complete clean-up of sites so that they are safe and can be used for other purposes.
  • Eight out of ten (80%) respondents agreed that governments should support heavy industry to switch to affordable, renewable energy to support local manufacturing sectors.
  • Seven out of ten (70%) agreed that the state government should plan to retire old coal burning power stations over the next decade - with support for workers to retrain to be part of a solid economic future for the Latrobe Valley.
  • A clear majority (57%) of respondents supported an early closure of Loy Yang if there is a solid plan to look after workers.

In NSW’s Hunter Valley:

  • Eight out of ten of respondents (80%) agreed that the state government needs a plan to retire coal burning power stations in NSW over the next decade with support for workers to retrain to ensure a solid economic future for the local region.
  • Just over three quarters (77%) of respondents agree that the NSW government should do more to transition from coal to renewables
  • 68% of respondents agreed that so long as there is a plan to look after power station workers and the community, switching to renewable power over the next decade is the best option for NSW.
  • Over nine in ten (91%) of respondents agreed that retired coal power stations need to be rehabilitated.
  • 84% of respondents agree that the NSW government should support heavy industry to switch to renewable energy.
  • A strong majority (68%) believe that when coal power stations are retired, renewables and batteries should replace them.

Jono La Nauze, Environment Victoria CEO, said:

“This polling shows the Latrobe Valley community is urgently calling for a plan that will enable Victoria to move towards renewable energy while supporting the workers and communities that have powered the state for decades.”

“It's time for our governments to step up and show they are serious about developing the new industries and technologies that will create new jobs in these communities and enable all Victorians to reap the benefits of a transition to clean, renewable energy.”

“With the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) forecasting that all Victorian coal power stations could close by 2032, the need for a community-led transition plan is more urgent than ever.”

“Currently the Latrobe Valley Authority is only funded until mid 2022. We’re calling on the Victorian government to extend this funding until the last power station closes, and to work with locals to build a community-led transition plan for the region.”

“These results also make it glaringly clear that communities living close to coal mines want the state government to ensure that the private companies clean up their giant holes in the landscape and make them safe for future use.”

Jacqui Mumford, Nature Conservation Council acting Chief Executive, said:

“These results reveal many residents in the Hunter are looking toward a future beyond coal and waiting for politicians to support that change.”

 “Pretending this energy transition isn’t happening helps no one. We need power station owners to come clean with realistic closure dates by 2030, so the community can plan ahead. We need all governments to take a much more active role in planning a transition for workers and the community”

“These results show that Hunter Valley locals want a clear plan to support our industries to make the switch to clean energy. It’s time for politicians to catch up with the community.”

Local community leaders in the Latrobe Valley region also welcomed the findings.

Tony Wolfe, senior operator at Loy Yang Power Station and Latrobe Valley community advocate, said:

“The owners of these sites have irreversibly changed the landscape while collecting massive financial rewards. The Latrobe Valley community  deserves to have our land returned in pristine condition, and the State government needs to ensure sufficient training and support for displaced workers so they can convert to the new clean energy industries.”

“This presents a perfect opportunity to engage our local indigenous communities to guide us on the future stewardship of this land,” he said.

The Yougov phone poll was conducted on a representative sample of more than 600 Australian voters aged 18+ in the Latrobe Valley and Hunter regions.

Welcome, Environment Minister James Griffin, keep up the good work

Nature Conservation Council Acting Chief Executive Jacqui Mumford said: “I heartily welcome the appointment of James Griffin as the state’s next Environment Minister and urge him to continue to build on the solid foundations laid by his predecessor. 

“Mr Griffin clearly has a strong interest in the portfolio. In his maiden speech to parliament, he declared his commitment to protecting and promoting the extraordinary natural beauty of his Manly electorate. He also served as parliamentary secretary assisting the environment minister for some time. [1] 

“Today, Mr Griffin has been given the opportunity to significantly widen the scope of his vision by becoming chief protector of the priceless natural heritage of the whole of the state. I wish him well in this noble endeavour.  

“The conservation movement stands ready to work with Mr Griffin over coming months to resolve important outstanding issues, including developing and implementing long-overdue protections for the state’s threatened koalas, and tackling the state’s deforestation crisis by ending unsustainable native forest logging and land clearing. 

“We would also like to discuss giving marine life in the Sydney region the protection it so desperately needs. Mr Griffin was a strong supporter of the Sydney Marine Park proposals, which has sat on the shelf gathering dust for years."      

Outgoing Environment Minister Matt Kean 

“I would like to thank the outgoing minister, Matt Kean, on the behalf of the conservation movement for his efforts over the brief but fruitful time he held the portfolio," Ms Mumford said. 

“Mr Kean has been instrumental in ending the destructive culture wars around nature and environment policy, reviving the Liberal Party’s long interest in conservation.  

“Mr Kean has been the most effective and consequential environment minister NSW has had in many years, adding almost 600,000 hectares to the national parks system. 

“He has protected land at a rate of about 240,000 hectares a year, possibly as good a rate, if not better, than any other conservative environment minister in the state’s history.  

“Much of the land he added was in far west of the state, which has until now been profoundly underrepresented in the reserve system. 

“We hope Mr Griffin continues to enhance the reserve system in the same spirit to help NSW reach the target of protecting 17% of the state in national parks.” 

Ms Mumford also acknowledges the immense contribution Mr Kean to climate and energy policy not only in NSW, but nationally.  

“Mr Kean has laid the foundation for an orderly transition from coal to clean energy and we are pleased he will continue to hold the energy portfolio to ensure the reforms he has ushered through parliament are implemented,” she said.