Collie shire council, in the heart of West Australia’s last remaining coal mining and coal generation district, has voted against installing rooftop solar on shire buildings because “we should be burning more coal.”
Council last week discussed whether to seek quotes for rooftop solar installations that one provider said would deliver electricity cost savings of $446,106 over 10 years.
But according to the local newspaper, the Collie Mail, the motion was lost 5-2, despite the fact that the solar installations and the cost savings would negate most of a planned rise in council rates.
One of the strongest opponents was councillor John Piavanini, who said he was ‘totally opposed’ to the shire installing solar panels on their buildings.
The shire should be “leading the way and burning more coal,” said Piavanini, a long-standng councillor who promises lower rates, and who is past president of the WA Axemans League as well as the Vintage Tractor and Machinery Association and Collie Veteran Car Club.
Collie is home to the ageing Muja coal generator, where the previous Liberal government blew more than $300 million in repairs and upgrade in a futile effort to try and extend the life of two of its oldest units.
Unlike Collie, other coal centres are embracing change – Port Augusta is now home to more than a dozen renewable energy projects, the former Collinsville power station in Queensland is surrounded by new solar projects under construction, Newcastle Council is building a 5MW solar plant and solar is being installed all across the Latrobe Valley in Victoria.
Councillor Michelle Smith, however, said she was worried about the implications of having solar panels when Collie was traditionally a coal town and employs people at Muja power station and other energy companies, the Collie Mail reported.
It quoted her as saying that “going into competition with the coal industry” would not be the correct decision.
Councillor Elysia Harverson said despite living in a coal town she didn’t believe that putting up solar panels would impact the grand scheme of things and saving $44,000 per year should out way any decision.
According to the paper, even the Shire of Collie chief executive officer David Blurton admitted that the shire had chosen not to install panels previously “because of the impact it could have.”
But he now figured they might be a good idea because they are environmentally friendly initiatives within shire buildings, and because of the energy savings and reducing costs.
Shire of Collie president Sarah Stanley said the shire had a responsibility to save money and spend ratepayer dollars wisely, and “not going ahead with something that makes so much sense would just give more air to the argument.”
The Collie Mail quoted her saying that the town “needed to move forward” so it was not as reliant on coal.
The proposal put to the shire by EGP Energy Solutions was to install solar panels on the shire depot, Roche Park, the Collie Public Library, Margareta Wilson Centre, the shire offices and the swimming pool.
EGP found without solar it would cost the shire $585,422 for 10 years, as opposed to $139,316 with solar, the paper reported..