Collie council votes against cheaper solar because “we should be burning more coal”

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Collie shire council, in the heart of West Australia’s last remaining coal mining district, votes against installing rooftop solar because “we should be burning more coal.”

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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..

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60 Comments
  1. GlennM 4 months ago

    Whiskey Tango Foxtrot…
    thanks goodness there are only a few of these fools around now

    • Joe 4 months ago

      But those fools are in positions of power that enables them to make these stupid decisions.

    • MaxG 4 months ago

      Wrong, 50+% of Australians are.

  2. ken 4 months ago

    My goodness, that council should be sacked by the local government minister for dereliction of its duty! (It’s odd that three Councillors are reported as having supported the proposal, but the motion was defeated 5-2.)

  3. wideEyedPupil 4 months ago

    Wow. Speechless.

    • Ev 4 months ago

      I’m not sure if i should laugh or not. its kind of scary.

      • wideEyedPupil 4 months ago

        #atleasttheyrehonest?!

  4. Alistair Spong 4 months ago

    Good old collie , it takes a certain level of courage to stand against the tide and make all ratepayers pay for the sacrifice. Council elections are a little way off , but i reckon quite a few of the old cockies in the shire might find the hip pocket reflex a bit hard to resist next time around.
    At some point it will hit the lot of them that Collie’s proximity to network infrastructure and tourism assets and are worth more than the trickle of visitors that currently wanders past in the hope of spotting a two headed inbred.
    It could all happen really quickly – Turnbull looses next election and the COALition policies dissapear forever , qld and vic governments renewable build will be a physical reality , WA ALP finally pulls its head out of its backside and comes up with a plan to shut down 50% of its generation capacity being coal , and the collie council will suddenly install solar panels around the same day Abbott resigns from Parliament along with Craig Kelly and some lesser known Nationals from QLD. Utopia ?

    • MaxG 4 months ago

      Yep, utopia.
      Unfortunately… very sad..

  5. lin 4 months ago

    It is refreshing to see politicians explain so clearly the stupidity behind their pro fossil fuel position.
    The Libs in Canberra are just as happy to waste taxpayer money propping up an industry for philosophical reasons, but are far less honest about it.

    • charles frogg 4 months ago

      Always much smarter to listen to the dreamers like the ones who have raised South Australian Power prices to the dearest in the world and now run the state on cheap green diesel fuel and 50 million dollar batteries that produce power for one hour and then need to be recharged with an overall efficiency of less than 50%, definitely the way to go.

      • DevMac 4 months ago

        Not sure if you read the article, but this excerpt is probably the most poignant as regards “wasting tax payers money” versus “dreamers”:

        EGP found without solar it would cost the shire $585,422 for 10 years, as opposed to $139,316 with solar, the paper reported.

      • Rod 4 months ago

        So many errors in one post. Try harder.

        The emergency generators are still yet to be used in anger so it doesn’t matter what they are currently set up to burn.
        50% round trip efficiency for the big battery? You have a citation to go with that baloney I assume?

      • Joe 4 months ago

        Froggy, time to jump out of that boiling pot before your brain completely melts.

      • Alastair Leith 4 months ago

        Charles, leading Uni of Melbourne economist Ross Garneau has pointed out that SA had wholesale price double the east coast states a decade ago. Thanks largely to wind generation built under the national RET and thanks to a very supportive Weatherill Govt they now are on par with wholesale prices of eastern states. WA has a thin grid with a small population “smeared” over it as Weatherill has pointed out in an interview with RenewEconomy.

        So you got it exactly backwards, cheap wind and solar drive prices down. Network costs have risen to half domestic energy bills in the last 5-10 years, largely due to projecting increases in demand that never materialised and gold plating their assets, the only legal way they can deliver higher “shareholder value” and reduce “user value” at the same time.

  6. Tullio Di Medio 4 months ago

    Collie Councillors are barking at the waves but the tides coming in.Are they going to move or stand on tippy toes a bit longer?

  7. Major Sceptic 4 months ago

    I would not like too make a judgement until all the facts are known , it is very easy to be an armchair expert .
    However saying that , if there where to be a very large amount of people put out of work that are keeping the coal powered generator going ,
    I could see that being a consideration.
    As someone commented ,
    there may be some jobs in tourism that open up with a big solar installation, eventually .
    However as an older bloke coming up to retirement age , thinking about new employment is not always so easy to just drop everything and go into a new industry .
    Some people may not ever be suited to new employment in this location if they even eventuate.
    Im not argueing on way or the other , but sometimes these things are far from black and white.
    I might add , sometimes being able to do something more cheaply might sound good , but you are then focusing on doing stuff on the cheap and not neccasarily supplying a quality service.
    Growing up from the 60’s in melbourne i have seen many things change regarding utilities and basic services for the sake of doing it cheaper , being more efficient
    With privatisation, modernization ,and i can honestly state some services have most definitely suffered ,
    And imo will never get better .
    I would just say all things must be considered in great detail rather than just change for an ideal .

    • wideEyedPupil 4 months ago

      You should be a policy advisor to one of the five councillors who voted for this. Your rambling ambiguous vagaries are just what they’ll need to sell this stupid robbery of rate payers on (misinformed) ideological grounds.

      You do realise the energy consumption of Collie township is incidental to the future of Muja and Collie coal fired power stations don’t you? They power 40% of the entire SWIS grid not just the local village.

      • Major Sceptic 4 months ago

        I did say if you read both my posts . im not promoting one way or the other , however , and no i`m not familiar with the area , but regardless you you need to weigh the pros and cons , and check carefully at the effects of what your doing .
        There is sometimes more to it than just saving a buck .
        as for robbery of rate payers , having nice shiny efficient solars panels is no gaurantee you wont be worse off .
        This my friend i have seen in my neck of the woods and it is not pretty .
        Have a good day .

        • John Cozins 4 months ago

          I live in Perth, so most all of our power is generated from the Collie coal power stations some 200 kilometres away.
          Whenever l drive into the city at night, almost every empty office building is ablaze with light because they are being provided with free electricity to leave their lights on all night to soak up some of the power still being generated by the Collie coal fired generators when the demand is low. Being coal fired, they cannot be turned down or on and off to meet varying demands.
          The next big advance in electricity generation has to come from some form of cheaper battery storage on a massive scale. Expensive storage from lithium or similar batteries are only a stop gap solution. These batteries are more suited to transportation where power density and weight are the primary concerns.
          The solution is really cheaper storage on a massive scale, possibly using decommissioned coal power stations or large empty office buildings. This storage will benefit the solar, wind, wave and tidal power industries and will be the final nail in the coffin of fossil fuel generation.

        • wideEyedPupil 4 months ago

          such fine and convincing words/

  8. Major Sceptic 4 months ago

    In my previous post i also forgot to mention alleged cheaper services ,
    It’s been my experience that more often than not we have these changes all deemed to be great leaps in efficiency and cost ,
    but somehow we end up paying twice as much for a lesser services .
    And one last thing , if a bunch of people where put out of employment in a small town ,a sudden lack of cash flow could turn the town in to a ghost town …… albeit with a nice shiny solar power plant .

    • PLDD 4 months ago

      Rooftop solar has been around for quite a few years so there is is a lot of experience with it and very good data about its real world performance. The cost/benefit model will be based on that data so there is no “alleged”.

      “….having nice shiny efficient solars panels is no gaurantee you wont be worse off. This my friend i have seen in my neck of the woods and it is not pretty”

      I assume from that comment you have heard anecdotal comments from friends, or read horror stories in the papers. These generally fall into two camps. First, the oversold with some dodgy installer promising the world and failing to deliver – I assume the council would do their due diligence and select a reliable supplier – so a moot point.

      Second, lots of the people who say their solar panels don’t “earn enough” fail to account for all the benefits. They usually just look at the feed in tariff they earn from selling their power. They ignore the cost avoidance benefit from using their own.

      And in this instance the councilors are very open – they decided to spend more ratepayers money on electricity because of a sense of solidarity with the coal industry….they understood the benefit.

    • DevMac 4 months ago

      A small town reliant on coal is inevitably a ghost town waiting to happen. Doubling down on coal will only bring the ghosts earlier.

  9. Paul Surguy 4 months ago

    Must be people that are still in the stone age

  10. heinbloed 4 months ago
  11. Robert Comerford 4 months ago

    Words fail me. I am glad I am not a ratepayer there.

  12. DugS 4 months ago

    One wonders if their support for the coal industry extends to leaving all the lights on and the AC running full tilt 24/7. If not then why not?
    The councillors can’t claim any logic to support their argument such as – turning the lights off saves money-, they just dismissed a significant savings to the council overheads on the basis of some perceived solidarity with their electorate. To a casual observer this could be summed up as ‘cutting off the nose to spite the face’ or, an illogical self defeating stubbornness.

  13. Chris Griffiths 4 months ago

    WA has an Enormous Solar Capability, the Whole State could run on Solar. Collie will have many People with Skills that can Easily Transfer to Solar industries, I hope the Collie Leadership give Their Children the Opportunity to be Leaders in that. There is only one Way to find out, Come on Collie give Solar/ Wind a Go.

    • MaxG 4 months ago

      And how do these people transition to solar? I am sure there is some significant reskilling required.

      • Chris Griffiths 4 months ago

        MaxG, Easy to Answer Mate, How did you Build the Coal Power Station and Coal Mine.?. The Transition just Requires Good Leadership and a Fair Go. Most, if not all of your Coal Workers will have Reasonable IQ’s, Some will have Excellent IQ’s. Then there is the young ones coming out of School, Uni, they will Adapt Fast and Impressively. However WA’s Energy is a Whole of State exercise and so it may be that Collie does other things as well. Let me Guess that your Growth has Stalled Under Coal, the Growth of the Coal mining regions of QLD, Stalled Long ago, some of those Small Towns are in a very Poor State, and they Produce a Lot of Coal. There is No Relationship between Producing Lots of Coal and a Good Local Outcome.
        Therefore the Regions of Australia have Not been Governed well by State and Federal Governments. So Quality Leadership is needed, Regional People Must be asking for Quality from the PM, Premier, Mayor. The Mayors are a Major Problem in Regional QLD, not because they are Poor People, but because they can’t Put the Whole Picture together for a Quality Plan + they Repeated Lose their Talent. So Max Trust me, I am a Supporter of Small Town Australia and I know the Challenges so Good Luck to Collie and Don’t Underestimate what you can Achieve.

        • MaxG 4 months ago

          Thanks, all understood and agreed… I never meant to hurt any brains… I still believe that quite a significant portion of people will end up empty handed in this transition.

        • Alastair Leith 4 months ago

          Word capitalisation makes for more difficult reading 🙂

        • Alastair Leith 4 months ago

          Not the article states that Mayor of Collie seemed to express her support for this cost saving and emissions reducing initiative.

      • phillyc 4 months ago

        Hi MaxG, I am a real life example. I have gone from HV Electrical substation design into owning a business installing solar systems.

        • MaxG 4 months ago

          Look, no doubts there will be some who can transition quite easily; while others (and I am not sure about the percentage) will have their careers ending, or very difficult to switch.

          • Alastair Leith 4 months ago

            Spoke to a boiler maker on the train last week who was friend of a friend and he said he earns north of $350K a year up north at Karratha. Said he could get a job in Perth like that any day of the week as a welder/boilermaker. There’s lots of transferable skills in a most coal workers tool belts. The stories need to be told though so more people understand the transition.

  14. Chris Fraser 4 months ago

    They are probably worried about coal generation unemployment. Don’t worry, those skilled people are needed in all kinds of other industry, this too will pass. They can’t put a dome over the top of their coal burner and pretend they are the whole world.

    • Steve Applin 4 months ago

      Collie is in the middle of nowhere.

      • Colin Edwards 4 months ago

        No Steve: Collie is only 56 Km from city of Bunbury, largest WA city after Perth. Equivalent to Penrith from Sydney.

        • Steve Applin 4 months ago

          I know where Collie is, I go there regularly for work. Collie is a long drive from Bunbury and Bunbury is nearly 200k’s from Perth. Population and economy wise they are in no way comparable to Sydney or Penrith.

          Take coal mining and the power stations out of mix and there are few reasons for anyone to live there and the town will die.

          Once Muja shuts it’ll take Griffin Coal or Premier Coal with it, and possibly both as they, like Bluewaters PS have long term financial difficulties.

          Take Muja and one of the coal mines out and there are very few jobs left. Bluewaters PS and Collie PS are tiny employers compared to Muja.

          • Alastair Leith 4 months ago

            Interesting.

            All the more reason for WA Govt to have a renewable energy mechanism to get 400 MW or more of wind built every year. Clean power, cheap power over the distance (certainly cheaper than replacing Muja seeing as the power coming out of refurbished Muja AB was around $250-300/MWh making it some of the most expensive existing coal-fired power in the world, ever). and the prospect of retraining to new jobs in the clean energy sector and even a small manufacturing hub around Bunbury/Collie for towers, nacelle covers, cables, blades etc… all potentially made locally at a competitive price to importing them from over east or Asia.

  15. Rod 4 months ago

    I wonder if the touted savings are calculated on WA electricity costs today or when the 30% Government subsidy is removed.
    Then we will see who has the most expensive power in the World and coal sure won’t help them.

    • Steve Applin 4 months ago

      The residential subsidy is down to about 10% with the price increases in the last 2 years and the contestable market has been cost reflective for ages.

      • Rod 4 months ago

        So the Libs started rolling back the subsidy?
        I had the impression it was all “Labor’s fault”

        • Steve Applin 4 months ago

          It was Labor that froze electricity prices way back when and the Liberals who unfroze them for non contestable customers. In 17/18 and 18/19 the regulated tarrifs have gone up substantially in both years with a view to cost reflective tarrifs in a couple of years.

          Labor have taken cost reflective tarrifs off the table and both parties are terrified about what happens *when* Muja falls apart in spite of how much money is spent on maintenance there and theyve got to give the people of Collie the facts of Life.

  16. Ian 4 months ago

    I wrote a quick email to the Collie Council while on the train this am. -expressing my frustration.
    Surprisingly I got a response from the CEO within 30 mins!

    • MaxG 4 months ago

      What did he say?

      • Ian 4 months ago

        Hi Ian,

        Thank you for your email submitted via the Council website.

        I appreciate and respect your view. Council recognises that change is inevitable and a lot of effort is going in to looking at ways in which Collie can diversify its economy away from traditional industries.

        There are hundreds of local families which rely on coal mining and coal fired power stations for survival and Council is mindful of supporting these families whilst acknowledging change is on its way.

        Regards,

        David Blurtonkm

        CEO

        • Alastair Leith 4 months ago

          I guess the point is that demand from Collie is probably much less than 0.1% of the demand on the SWIS grid to which coal-fired power plants in and around Collie send their power. 48% of the power to SWIS comes from Collie region. Hopefully a transition to economic diversification can include jobs in wind and solar in the Collie/Bunbury region — including manufacturing parts to those industries as it does over east.

          But that would take a very concerted effort on the part of the WA Government to ensure a smooth deployment of wind and solar every year and at present there has been precious little detail on what their plans are to encourage renewables to the grid. There seems to be a (misplaced) confidence that “the market can do it now”. Well please try convincing Synergy who own or contract through PPAs most of that coal (and some of the gas which is another 40% of generation) that the market wants them to build wind and solar and then turn of coal in a timely manner. We aren’t seeing any such announcements or a public show of forward planning along those lines, the opposite in fact, a solidarity around coal seems to be the order of the day. Wins on emotion but will lose out on the promises soon than many suspect.

    • Chris Fraser 4 months ago

      Although it looks like a good right arm workout …

    • Calamity_Jean 4 months ago

      Oy vey!

  17. caffdan 4 months ago

    About time Renew Economy printed some comedy. Yay Colliewobblies

  18. Joe 4 months ago

    Is the place Collie or ‘Coallie’?

  19. Radbug 4 months ago

    These are the same people who voted for jarrah railway sleepers and against concrete sleepers! I think these people have managed to scrape into the Bronze Age!

  20. Sarah Stanley 4 months ago

    Council’s decision not to support the officer’s recommendation to seek quotations for solar panels and to provide for a loan of up to $90,000 in this year’s budget does not mean that the Shire will not consider solar panels at some point in the future.

    The savings referred to in this article were based on the assumptions of a single company with a vested interest in its outcome, and did not take into account installation or maintenance costs.

    Council questioned the veracity of these claims, and further investigation would be required before it would consider committing ratepayers’ funds to the installation of solar panels.

    

We know that Collie is at an extremely vulnerable point right now, with impacts expected from changes in the energy landscape.

    Some councillors felt that installing solar panels on council facilities at this point in time would send the wrong message to our community about its support for traditional industries that continue to provide employment for a significant number of people in our community.

    However, councillors are also aware that there is a lot of work being done to help Collie transform itself from a community that is seen as dependent on coal mining and power generation to one that is much more diverse and sustainable.

    At all times, Council is mindful that decisions must be based on what is in the best interests of our whole community on the balance of all information available at the time.

    • Alastair Leith 4 months ago

      Three quotes is always better than a single quote! Surprising it went to a vote without a full suite of options being investigated by council staff first, in some ways. Especially given the division it seems to have provoked amongst councillors.

      Experts in energy efficiency will of course tell us there’s more bang for buck in efficiency measures across council operations, certainly until all those options are well and truely exhausted. Even more so than with PV installations, different consultancies have different capabilities for finding energy savings through retrofits, new technology and behavioural change programs. Even if some EE measures have been adopted, it’s likely there are more to find unless Council has been hard at it for years. The cleanest and cheapest kWH of energy is the one not ever used.

      Hopefully if savings are found to exist deploying EE and PV … and many councils in Melbourne find them with a much lesser solar resource than Collie enjoys… then these savings can be invested in helping workers, families, and the economy of the greater Collie region transition to prosperous industries with a rosier future than coal. If $200K of savings over 10 years was found in EE and self-generation PV, that’s the beginning of a decent fund to provide retiring coal workers with individual assistance moving into new employment in new industries, or could be put to a multitude of other uses in a transition and to help young people find work in new industries.

      AEMO says coal will slide out of the national market in it’s recently released Integrated System Plan even without explicit policies to direct that change. Simply as a matter of rational economic choice — as coal plants age and lose reliability and eventually are retired they will be replaced with renewables, storage and gas for backup. On price alone even without a new national RET, CET, EIS, NEG or any other policy measure which might emerge once energy stops existing as merely the political plaything of a very disorganised (some might say riven) federal Liberal Party.

      In WA we have quite a lot of gas generation already (~40% of our mix by generation which is considerably higher than states in the NEM), though more fast ramping OCGT capacity would be needed according to SEN modelling to get to very high penetrations of RE.

    • Ferris B 4 months ago

      Sarah Stanley will your council install solar panels when the remaining coal generators are shut down in less than 3 years time?

  21. Jacob 4 months ago

    out *weigh*

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