Forward-looking governments worldwide are taking coal off their agendas. In Australia, taking coal out of our energy equation requires rethinking the future of both the assets and their communities. We studied how the transition away from coal could serve community needs and create new economic opportunities through adaptive reuse of mines.
To successfully pull out of coal, it’s critical to fully understand the possibilities and benefits for both the mining sites and the mining communities.
There are ever-increasing global precedents for the successful transition of old coal-fired power stations and mines into new functional entities.
Successful adaptive reuse that delivers benefits unique to each location combines localised knowledge, engineering expertise, community engagement, and strategic planning.
2050 the year we need to decarbonise our economy
80%of energy supply in Australia is fossil fuel
1Earth to save
Transitioning away from fossil fuel
We know from the data that our planet is heating up. To avoid catastrophic heating, we need to act now and decarbonise our economy by 2050. Energy decarbonisation plays a central role in the transition and governments worldwide are taking action. Australia must do so too. Our current energy supply is almost 80% fossil fuel, and most of it is produced in old, inefficient coal-fired plants that are operating well beyond their intended 40-50 year lifespan.
With the cost of renewable energy dropping, private and public sectors are seeking ways to promote a sustainable energy transition whilst also figuring out how to address the local social and economic impacts of shutting a community employer.
Most state governments have set up proactive policies around mine closures. Some currently require existing mines to produce a rehabilitation plan to continue operation, others require financial securities or full closure plans.
However, the overall strategy is not always clear, particularly for the communities most immediately affected.
Mines rehabilitation for resilient change
We have already assisted agencies across the globe to strategise these transitions. One example is the Battersea power plant in London, where the revamped site will soon supply renewable energy to a neighbourhood revitalised for people, flora, and fauna, using principles that support increased biodiversity. Sara Golingi, town planner from our Brisbane office, used this experience to consider options in the Australian context.
The original research idea was to undertake a technical study of mine decommissioning, but it soon branched into a broader piece on community resilience and regenerative design. ” Sara Golingi Town Planner
The team mapped existing thermal coal-fired power stations and mines across Australia and analysed their features. Creating a shortlist, they then selected three mine sites to take a deeper dive into regeneration options: Muswellbrook in New South Wales, Morwell in Victoria, and Jeebropilly in Queensland.
“To be honest, being a Queensland-based team, we were happy to see Jeebropilly make the shortlist,” Sara joked. Jeebropilly is located in South East Queensland (SEQ). Sitting adjacent to the Amberley Air Base and within 15 minutes’ drive of the Ipswich CBD, it also happens to fall within a Regional Economic Cluster. This gives it the potential to become a major economic hub within the ShapingSEQ regional plan.
“To date, mine rehabilitation in sites like Jeebropilly has focused on revegetation, a low-hanging fruit for cattle grazing,” Sara says. “But the site as a whole has many local synergies and a huge range of other opportunities.” By looking at the bigger picture, the team saw great potential in redevelopment for purposes that align with both the regional plan and Ipswich City Council’s future vision for the city. Opportunities include defence, major enterprise, transport and logistics and advanced manufacturing including Industry 4.0 hubs.
By thinking at a strategic level, the team examined the entwined benefits for government, industry and community stakeholders. This process allowed them to identify specific strategies for site redevelopment, economy stimulus and a transition to clean energy. The potential benefits range from economic diversification to meeting emissions reduction targets to uplifting corporate social responsibility and improving employment prospects.
Through a distinct combination of technical knowledge, strategic mapping and community engagement, Sara and her team took rehabilitation beyond the ‘future of mines’ to the ‘future of communities’.
What could economic and social success look like for local communities?
"We were engaged by the Torres Cape Indigenous Council Alliance to prepare an opportunity plan to advance the social and economic development of the Cape, Torres and Gulf region,” says Sara. Since parts of the region are heavily reliant on the mining industry, the plan explored opportunities for economic diversification and transition to new industries. The team also partnered with our community engagement program to drive social value, lead additional workshops, and better understand the opportunities and barriers to community growth.
The development of this opportunity plan, along with the work on mining rehabilitation and redevelopment, led to conversations with the Weipa Town Authority. This community, also built upon mining, showed an appetite for redeveloping sites to improve regional food production and ultimately, food resilience.
To successfully achieve resilience when it comes to mines, a combination of expertise is required. Both engineering and community inclusion are vital. If we are to transition our energy systems efficiently and effectively to avoid catastrophic heating, now is the time for Australia to prepare. With a holistic and strategic approach, we can ensure a future that is renewable: both in terms of energy consumption and community health.
We have a strong point of difference here. With such a diverse range of skilled people, we can bring broad expertise to these multi-faceted projects, facilitating communication between stakeholders, providing strategy, design, development, maintenance and post-occupancy plans. ” Sara Golingi Town Planner