Potential for low carbon manufacturing to re-industrialise Collie and south west WA

A transition to a low carbon economy could add 1,750 jobs to Collie in south-west Western Australia, many of those in low-carbon manufacturing, highlights a new report from think tank, Beyond Zero Emissions.

Collie, known for its coal industry at the centre of the south-west interconnected system, has been roiled by announcements of closures of operating units at the Muja Power Station, with up to 80 direct jobs lost, however the report, Collie at the Crossroads, notes that low-carbon manufacturing has the potential to create new jobs in manufacturing powered by renewable energy.

“Sustainable manufacturing is an opportunity to reindustrialise parts of Australia, particularly regional Australia,” said Beyond Zero Emissions CEO, Vanessa Petrie to Manufacturers’ Monthly.

The report, released on November 22, identifies opportunities for manufacturing green alumina, zero-carbon concrete, and renewable building materials such as engineered timber. Ensuring the transition will be successful requires foresight, said Petrie.

“We were hearing people talk about a just transition, which is absolutely essential, but we hadn’t really seen a detailed report looking at a coal community and what the opportunities are,” said Petrie.

According to the report, there is the potential of 870 jobs in renewable manufacturing, which could then provide a base for further manufacturing growth in the region.

“Manufacturing is so important to the Australian economy, it does things that other things can’t like high quality jobs, innovation, and drive productivity, and the transition to low carbon needs to be looked at as an opportunity to really strengthen and grow our manufacturing sector,” said Petrie.

As many of the skills required for renewable energy manufacturing can be transferred from current energy needs, Collie provides a test case for further transition projects, as lead author Lachlan Rule highlighted to Manufacturers’ Monthly.

“There is a concentration in Collie of engineers, welders, boilermakers, fitters and turners, fabricators, keeping these old clunking coal machines running and you’ve got supporting small industry, who all have those skills,” said Rule.

However, the report’s authors caution that state and federal governments have a role to ensure that the transition is smooth, and those who the industry currently supports are not left without a job.

“There are two futures ahead of Collie,” said Rule. “There’s one where they seize the opportunities that a low carbon future presents, and the other is this slow decline we started to see this year with the two closures at Muja Power Station.”

Simultaneously, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), released its report into emissions reductions in industrial process heating. With 50 per cent of industry’s energy useage  going towards heat production, the report launches ARENA’s investment plan to transition to renewable energy.

“This report identifies that shifting to renewable energy to generate process heat is possible for these sites over the short, medium and long-term using numerous technologies and approaches including bioenergy, geothermal, electrification, hydrogen and solar thermal together with process redesign, combining heat and power and co-locating greenfield developments with renewable resources,” said ARENA CEO, Darren Miller.