One of my favourite campaign ideas in recent years is RePower Balcombe. Led by 10:10, it is a community solar project in the village at the heart of Britain’s early fracking tests. It was a bold example of reclaiming the story of a place, proactively building the alternative, and undermining the fossil fuel empire with something better.
A similar story has unfolded in Port Augusta, Australia, on an altogether larger scale. The town was home to two big coal power plants. When the community learned that they were to close, they rallied behind renewable energy instead. They wanted to protect the local economy and transition the workers into a new industry. Solar thermal was chosen, and the world’s largest solar thermal plant is due to open next year. If that wasn’t enough, the town is now home to Australia’s largest solar PV farm as well.
Port Augusta is a great story, and it also demonstrates the importance of a ‘just transition’. As we’ve seen in Britain with the Welsh mining towns, a switch away from fossil fuels can leave communities behind. Poverty can be entrenched for decades. We should learn from this, and ensure that the end of oil, coal and gas is matched by new opportunities for fossil fuel workers. The Canadian agency Iron & Earth faciliates that kind of retraining in the tar sands, and Repower Port Augusta has done it with coal in Australia. In a country that is deeply dependent on the coal industry, it sends a powerful signal that alternatives are out there and people will support them.
Here’s a short video summary of the story: