Replacing NSW coal plant with renewables would create thousands more jobs than gas, report says

Replacing Australia’s largest coal-fired power station with renewable energy would create tens of thousands more construction jobs than replacing it with gas, a new analysis has found.

The Eraring coal-fired power station in the Lake Macquarie region of New South Wales is scheduled to close in 2025.

A new report by the Australian Conservation Foundation estimates if the electricity output of the station was replaced entirely with rooftop solar it would create 63,562 construction jobs.

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The same amount replaced by solar farms would create 14,415 jobs and windfarms 13,339 jobs.

New fossil fuel generation lagged behind clean options, with gas creating the lowest number of construction jobs at 1,566. New coal-fired power plants would create an estimated 8,576 jobs.

The tool for calculating the number of construction jobs was built by energy market analyst Tristan Edis, who developed it by using historical jobs data for recent energy projects.

“Renewable energy is the winning option for communities that have for decades relied on coal-fired power stations which are now on their last legs,” the ACF’s chief executive Kelly O’Shanassy said.

She said residents of the Hunter Valley in NSW, the Latrobe Valley in Victoria and Gladstone in Queensland had for many years depended on jobs linked to coalmines and power stations.

“Replacing old coal fired generators with renewables will bring a jobs boom to those regions,” she said.

The analysis also looks at household comparisons and finds 26,484 construction jobs could be created if Australia chose to install rooftop solar on one million new homes.

Solar farms would create 6,006 construction jobs, wind 5,558 jobs, while new coal would create 3,573 and gas just 652.

The rooftop solar industry in Australia is highly skilled, Climate Energy Finance director Tim Buckley says.
The rooftop solar industry in Australia is highly skilled, Climate Energy Finance director Tim Buckley says. Photograph: David Mariuz/AAP

Tim Buckley, the director of Climate Energy Finance, said the difference in employment potential that the analysis found between rooftop solar and gas did not surprise him.

“The level of employment in the rooftop solar sector is huge and Australia’s solar industry is predominantly rooftop and it’s a highly skilled area,” he said.

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Buckley said the politicisation of decarbonisation meant two aspects of the energy transition had often been ignored.

“One, it ignores the inevitability of the transition, and two, the massive investment, employment and export opportunities that are ahead of Australia,” he said.

The release of the report comes amid the federal election campaign, in which the major parties have promised to back fossil fuels.

In the first 10 days of campaigning, the Coalition announced or confirmed more than $800m in funding for fossil fuel developments. The largest portion of that has come from an agreement with the Northern Territory’s Labor government around gas development in the Beetaloo Basin.

The prime minister, Scott Morrison, has also pledged $130m for carbon capture and storage by gas companies in the territory.

In Queensland, Anthony Albanese said proposals for new mega coalmines would be assessed according to national environmental law and if they cleared that process they could go ahead.

The Labor leader has said the financial viability of such projects was a matter for the companies proposing them.