May 12, 2022

Australia begins long journey to retrain thousands of coal workers for clean energy roles | Way of life

The sudden speed of the shift to clean energy is forcing Australia, the world’s coal and gas champion, to tackle one of the energy industry’s biggest challenges: how to transition millions of workers from fuels fossils to new roles in wind and solar power.

Clean energy could create more than 38 million jobs worldwide by the end of the decade and meeting this demand without labor shortages requires accelerating efforts not only to attract new entrants , but also to create a clearer plan to recycle industry veteran labor as traditional fuel. sources are diminishing.

It’s a work in progress in Australia, where coal supremacy is finally under threat from cheap clean energy, and lawmakers who once championed fossil fuels are now trading promises on green jobs in the pre-election campaign. May Nationals.

“Light is dawning across governments and industry” that more investment in training is needed, with a shortage of skilled workers already emerging for some existing projects and ambitious plans to add more clean energy to help nations meet their climate commitments, said Chris Briggs, research director at the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney.

In the southeastern city of Ballarat, a major 19th-century gold mining center, companies such as Vestas Wind Systems – the world’s largest turbine maker – financed the first tower of country’s wind energy training, where students and former coal workers can use a 23-meter-tall rig to gain the expertise needed for roles in renewable energy.

“At the moment, with those skills, you have to bring them in from outside or send Australians overseas,” said Duncan Bentley, vice-chancellor of Federation University, which hosts the site. The facility is the premier local training institution that can provide key safety qualification needed to work in the wind industry.

Renewables accounted for nearly a third of the nation’s power generation in 2021, double four years earlier, and utilities are laying out plans to phase out coal-fired power plants years earlier than expected.

According to Briggs, around 10,000 coal-related jobs in Australian mines and power stations linked to national power generation will be lost by 2036. More will surely exit too, as coal exporters eventually shut down.

Over the same period, about 20,000 to 25,000 new jobs will appear in the construction, maintenance and operation of renewable energy, Briggs said.

Legislators, too, are beginning to adapt. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison won the 2019 election in part because his defense of fossil fuel jobs helped win critical support in coal communities. Ahead of the May election – with his government trailing the opposition Labor Party in opinion polls – he still backs coal, but is also touting the prospects for workers to win new roles in clean hydrogen.

Morrison on Tuesday announced funding for two planned hydrogen centers in Western Australia which he said could create at least 3,600 new jobs.

“It’s about enjoying the work”

There is a catch in the rush to new sectors. Most roles in solar and wind energy promise only a fraction of salaries in the minerals industry. Mining is in Australia’s blood, fueling nearly every economic boom since the 19th century gold rush.

“As a young man, it made sense to go straight into the mines, trying to chase silver,” said Dan Carey, who spent 12 years working at the remote Port Hedland iron ore hub. as well as in the oil and gas town of Karratha in Western Australia.

In January, in search of a better lifestyle, he became a service technician at a wind farm in Warradarge, a three-hour drive north of Perth. Now, “it’s about enjoying the work,” Carey said. “In the mining world, everyone kind of lives for the money.”

For example, the starting salary of an operator of AGL Energy Ltd.’s Loy Yang A coal-fired power plant. in Victoria is around A$164,500 ($122,000), while a technician at wind turbine builder Suzlon would earn between A$100,000 and A$120,000, according to recent Fair Work Commission company agreements.

In the mining sector, there are also a host of benefits, which could include six weeks of paid vacation, subsidized housing and utilities, free plane tickets for vacations and large bonuses. “It’s definitely going to be hard to hold people back from this world,” Carey said.

Additionally, while mining and coal-fired power have provided work for generations of Australians, many new renewable energy jobs are temporary.

“The challenge is that there are hundreds of construction jobs and only a handful of operations and maintenance jobs,” said Anita Talberg, director of workplace development at the Clean Energy Council, a industry group. And some of the highest-skilled jobs in fossil fuels don’t have a direct equivalent in renewable energy, she said.

decades of construction

Yet the sheer scale of the energy transition will mean that the construction of large new solar and wind farms will continue for decades, steadily increasing the number of jobs in progress as new plants come online.

Fossil fuel veterans are well positioned to thrive, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency. Gas rig personnel generally have expertise suited to offshore wind, while coal workers have been recruited from solar energy and oil reservoir engineers can use their know-how for geothermal energy.

Australia’s first offshore wind farm, the Star of the South, is set to open in 2028 in Bass Strait off the country’s southern coast. Around the same time, Hong Kong-based CLP Holdings Ltd. will close the aging coal-fired power plant at nearby Yallourn after more than 100 years of operation.

The wind project aims to capitalize on the pool of potential workers and has prompted discussions on retraining opportunities.

“You have the workers with the necessary skills,” said Erin Coldham, Star of the South’s director of development.

Bloomberg’s Matthew Burgess contributed to this report.