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04 Dec

Village paying the price of our thirst for power

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THE village of Wollar is a far way from anywhere.
Shanghai night field

You drive to Denman and then you keep on driving until you hit Wollemi and Goulburn National Parks. And then you hit the coalmines –kilometres and kilometresof Wilpinjong, Moolarben and Ulan coalmines as viewed from a heritage train on Sunday.

Wollar is, literally, the community that’s out of sight and out of mind –and because of this it’s been slowly destroyed.

The giant Wilpinjong mine, owned by troubled US company Peabody, and supplying coal by contract to AGL’s Bayswater power plant, is the source ofmuch of the state’s electricity.

Every time we turn on a light, or watch television, or cook dinner, we rely on that energy chain. And Wollar pays the price.

Wilpinjong was approved in 2006, despite concerns about environmental and social impacts which were dealt with by conditions. And like virtually all Hunter mines it expanded –six times –and is currently subject to another expansion proposal.

On the train on Sunday energy analyst Tim Buckley said Australia’s leaders were wilfully blind to the global structural decline of thermal coal, because of political donations by mining companies, the movement of politicians and political staff to mining companies and back again, and because coal royalties are “money for jam”.

He provided evidence to argue that China, America and India are moving from coal –and won’t be moving back again.

He argued it’s misguided to believe Japan, Korea and Taiwan will fill the void because global prices will drop with a shrinking global market for coal.

So where does it all end?

On the heritage train tour of Hunter and Western coal fields on Sunday –with the train stopped frequently to make way for coal trains –consensus was that Australia needs a price on coal in line with our commitment to keep the global climate change temperature increase to two degrees.

And while federal action remains mired in climate change politics, with the Coalition caught between its climate change progressives and a noisy minority of climate change sceptics, community and environment groups are acting, with plans to campaign against energy providers like AGL.

The Hunter Region is beautiful,richand significant, both to the communities within it, and in world terms.

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