Repower Port Augusta: the Walk for Solar

“Passengers, prepare for take off.” Blueish cabin lights illuminate my copy of Chris Rose’s How to Win Campaigns as flight DJ 247 leaves Melbourne. I’ll soon arrive in South Australia to start the journey of a lifetime, walking 300 km from Port Augusta to Adelaide in support of a campaign to build Australia’s first baseload solar thermal plant. It feels eerie to think how this ‘Walk for Solar’ may reverberate through my life.

There’s another journey I’ve been on that certainly changed my life forever. In 2009 I went to COP15, the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen, as part of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition’s (AYCC) youth delegation. In Copenhagen, I learnt of the brilliance and resolve of the International Youth Climate Movement. In Copenhagen, I learnt what it feels like to commit to a cause. In Copenhagen I learnt what it feels like to see the world’s leaders refuse to act to safeguard for my generation the same environmental heritage that my parents and grandparents enjoyed.


The first day of COP15 – hundreds of youth do a ‘flashdance’ inside the conference centre. I lead.

I’m glad I got to experience this with the AYCC. I attribute my involvement in climate campaigning to this journey. In Copenhagen I realised that some young people were seriously committed to solving climate change. I realised they knew what they were doing. I realised they were doing it – and I wanted in.

So, in 2010, I founded the AYCC SA. Knowing bugger-all about campaigning, organising, or leadership, I convened a meeting and began building a group. Volunteers joined us and we grew, concluding 2010 with a fourteen-day climate activism festival that involved around 30 volunteers, staged around 6 actions, and reached local media and federal politicians – not to mention former Prime Minister John Howard.

climate-activism-adelaide-walk-for-solarI’m now privileged to be AYCC’s Grassroots Campaigner. I implement our campaigns, manage the Hobart and NT branches, and develop our strategy. It’s hugely rewarding. I can’t really put in words what it is like to continually witness, as I do, our volunteers’ feats of commitment, ingenuity, and compassion.

It’s hugely rewarding, too, to see how AYCC SA has flourished since my move. They’ve built new groups, recruited new volunteers, pushed new frontiers. They’ve also championed the inspirational campaign, Repower Port Augusta.

Repower Port Augusta aims to replace Port Augusta’s dirty coal stations with baseload solar thermal, a renewable energy source that uses mirrors to focus sunlight to boil water to run a steam turbine. Solar thermal can provide power even when the sun isn’t shining. It’s a crucial climate solution. The alternative for Port Augusta is a gas plant, which would see local jobs flee the town. So it’s no surprise that Port Augusta’s council, businesses, and community support the campaign – in a recent community vote, 4053 out of 4096 people voted in favour of solar thermal for Port Augusta.

repower-port-augusta-community-vote-walk-for-solarThe next step for this campaign is to get the Federal Government to commit funding. This requires public pressure. And this requires national attention. Just as the Franklin River campaign got every Australian tongue wagging, so too can Repower Port Augusta spark a national conversation.

How? The Walk for Solar. 100 walkers, 328 km, 14 days. It’s an amazing story. And it’s just the sort of story that could capture the imagination of this country. It’s the sort of story that could see Australia build her first baseload solar thermal plant.

On 30 September I’ll walk in to Adelaide. Tired, weary, I’ll be greeted by a rally of thousands. We’ll take our concerns to parliament. But, regardless of what happens that Sunday, there will still be much ground left to cover. Even if we succeed in shining a national spotlight on Port Augusta, we’ll still have our work cut out for us.


A rally in Port Augusta to launch the ‘Walk for Solar’.

This campaign will be a long journey, and at times my feet will grow sore. But I’ll keep going. I’ll keep going because of the people: Dan Spencer, a community campaigner who has made this campaign what it is today; Tim Baxter, whose 5-year-old daughter, Ellie, deserves a safe climate and will be walking with us. I’ll keep going. I’ll keep going because it’s right: because action on climate change is a moral minimum, and our government should be doing everything in its power to shift Australia to be powered by the wind and the sun. I’ll keep going because Port Augusta deserves solar thermal, because its people shouldn’t have to leave their town to find work, because its people deserve clean air. I’ll keep going because I know we can win.

My plane is soon to touch down in Adelaide. This campaign is soon to take off. We’re taking flight to a better future for youth, for Port Augusta, for Australia. It’s time to get on board.


5 Responses to “Repower Port Augusta: the Walk for Solar”

  1. I voted in the Pt Augusta solar/gass vote, but after reading the full report and looking back at how I voted I am disappointed with how the vote was designed. First and foremost, I have no issue with the BZE or Repower reports being a scoping study, what I have an issue with is the data being used as tools to garner support when the final feasibility study may be much different. For example this is what I can remember beign on the voting slip:
    Solar – 360 permanent jobs, 0 emissions, no health issues, unlimited sun, and energy security.
    Gas – 76 permanent jobs, 2Mt emissions, helath issues, fossil fuel use, non-secure resource

    Then in the report it states:
    Solar – 40 permanent jobs per plant, 0 operating emissions, no health issues, sun resource, no detail on energy security fro solar.

    From the report this was not included:
    Solar – 0.7c/kWh FiT, LCOE $250/MWh, Gas – No FiT, $100/MWh. Or a Gas/Solar Thermal hybrid plant – No FiT, $111/MWh.

    I’d have chosen the Hybrid plant that would have ensured stability of supply, reduced relaince on fossil fuels, reduced emissions, and no FiT. Technical name is a Integrated solar combined cycle (ISCC). Also it could have been built sooner, like what is bieng built at Kogan Creek, although that is coal/solar. This is what Alinta was mulling over when they mentioned “solar thermal”. No market in their right mind would replace scheduled generation with semi-scheduled, the impact of that on the wholesale price would rival the oil market swings in 2007-2010.

    There is a difference. I only realised this after reading the full report. I just assumed that what woulld be in the report is what would be on the slip. The Solar part of the slip was for the full projcct not a solar v gas plant

    The 360 jobs figure is for 6 plants and all the wind turbines, the slip did not state “wind and solar”. There are life cycle emisisons in manufacturing and mining of the materials to make the plants (which I think was noted as a footnote). Health issues can’t complain with. Sun is a resource when it is there, there is no discussion of storage, and relying on wind to make the gap. Thus energy security is not secure, there has to be an engineerd solution ot get realiability of supply, which is a tenet of energy security.
    With gas it is there 24/7, no need to engineer solution. They did cite the Varnus gas island explosion, in 2004 one happend at Moomba. Gas supply was ensured due to the SEAgas pipeline. Gas supply in SA is secure due to the number of interconnections in the East Australia network. This report ignores the recent gas discoveries in the Cooper basin which have just secured supply for many decades to come. Then they cite the connectivity with international gas markets. Yes exposure to an export market does increase domestic gas prices, however not to the export price. Look at WA. Also it ignores long term supply contracts that are utilised in the generation industry. It even ignores the impact semi-scheduled geneeration has on the wholesale market price, that average $100/MWh market price in the report will disappear very quickly when wind over produces. There are obvious omissions that anyone with a grasp of how the electricity and energy markets work would understand.

    The point I was making is that, either by accident or not, the voting slip garnered a specific response due to its inherent cognitive bias, as I have showed. No wonder they got 4000+ votes, surveys can be worded and constructed to get differing results. There is a bunch of psychological literature out about this.
    There will be a lot of hype built around this project at a scoping stage, the hype should be done after a full feasibility study is done showing it can be done. Not it could be done. I want to see renewables get up, but they won’t if we hype up the public at a scoping stage rather than a feasibility stage and they get dissilusioned when the market does otherwise. The public votes are biased, the industry has been misunderstood, and the government has an open mind (and are broke). Please take a step back, or the renewables industry will take a hell of a whack when expectations are realised.

  2. If you have not seen it yet we have an online petition if you could sign on and pass around that would be great.



  1. 40 delightful things about the Walk for Solar | Scit Necessitas - October 1, 2012

    […] On the morning of Saturday 29 September this list of delights was compiled. Thanks to Paige and Miri for their help! For more information about my participation in the Walk for Solar, here you go! […]

  2. Content in the Body | Scit Necessitas - January 25, 2014

    […] has been quite good to me. In 2012 my feet took my hundreds of kilometres from Port Augusta to Adelaide. They complained a bit, they griped, but they obligingly, companionably, took me all the distance. […]

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