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Could a national energy transition authority allay the fears of communities reliant on fossil fuel industries?

The transition to net zero will be one of Australia’s biggest energy transformations and for communities dependent on fossil fuel industries, there is a lot of fear and uncertainty about the future.

Unions and the Business Council of Australia have joined a growing chorus of voices calling for a national Energy Transition Authority to plan and coordinate change.

So what would an energy transition authority actually do and will it ever happen?

What is an energy transition authority?

The general idea behind such a body is that it would coordinate the country’s energy transition – from fossil fuel-based energy to renewable alternatives – by advising governments on policies and regulations, setting national plans and targets, and funding and provide support to the places and workers who need it most.

Regional areas dependent on fossil fuels are concerned about the impact of the energy transition on them.(ABC News: Jess Davis)

Greens Senator Penny Allman-Payne, of Gladstone in Queensland, said the transition has been happening in a “random manner” so far.

“If we don’t do this in a coordinated and managed way, some communities will benefit, others will be left behind,” she said.

“And we won’t be able to take advantage of the real opportunities we can take if we switch the economy.”

What do they look like in other countries?

Next Economy chief executive Amanda Cahill, who works with regional economies undergoing economic change, says transitional authorities have been crucial in countries like Germany, Canada and Spain.

A woman smiles at the camera
dr. Cahill says many people in regional communities are in favor of a transitional authority.(ABC Capricornia: Tobi Loftus)

“One of the most cited examples came from the Ruhr in Germany where they started a very long time ago, it was a very coal intensive region and they could see that coal was in decline,” said Dr Cahill.

“Now that that area is known as a health center, they’ve drawn a lot of health services to the area. They’re also a go-to place for training and tourism, and a lot of other industry and green manufacturing too.”

For workers in coal-related industries, the authority provided early retirement, relocation, training and support for workers to move into other sectors, such as the service sector.

A miner kisses a lump of coal while his colleagues huddle around him.
A miner kisses the symbolic last piece of coal mined in Bottrop, Germany, after the country closed its black coal mines in 2018.(Reuters: Thilo Schmuelgen)

How would it work?

Australia already has a number of regional transitional authorities, such as in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley. But dr. Cahill believes that an energy transition authority should be established at both regional and national levels.

“The goals … need to be set at the national level and that allows for coordination between the states that are all working on this,” she said.

“But as for the aid, it has to get funding that’s channeled through the states — that decision-making on the ground.

“There have to be instances in regions when things change. That planning has to be run locally because every place is different.”

In the long grass on the road to the power station is a hand-painted sign that reads 'Hazelwood workers matter'.
A sign outside the Hazelwood power station in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley on its last day of operation in 2017.(ABC news: Nicole Asher)

And Dr. Cahill said it was about much more than just the staff.

“Workforce development is one of the pillars we need to look at when managing change, but so is energy security and affordability and access, as is economic diversification and helping the industry adapt,” he said. they.

“If you’re going to approach this holistically, it can’t really fall under one of those themes.

“It should be its own centralized authority, coordinating people working in those different fields.”

Who supports the idea?

Alongside the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), Dr Cahill said there was “surprisingly widespread” support for a national energy transition authority.

She said this included support from regional councils, social and community groups, as well as pension funds, investors and environmental groups.

Senator Allman-Payne said the Greens planned to introduce a bill to the federal parliament that would establish legal authority.

“The government has indicated during the climate negotiations that it would consider the Greens’ plans for a transitional authority, so we are hopeful that they will negotiate with us,” she said.

“Transition does require a dedicated national body.”

Will the federal government support a transitional government?

It’s unclear, but federal Labor has supported the idea in the past.

Creating a ‘Just Transition Authority’ was a promise made during Labor’s failed election campaign in 2019.

Chris Bowen walks down a corridor in Parliament House.
Climate Change and Energy Secretary Chris Bowen would not say whether he supports a national transitional authority.(ABC News: Matt Roberts)

Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen declined to answer a series of questions from the ABC about whether the government still supports such a body, or whether it would support the Greens’ proposed legislation.

Instead, his office issued the following statement:

“At the Jobs and Skills Summit in September 2022, the government committed to a coordinated approach with industry, unions, local government and communities to help affected workers and regional communities thrive in a clean energy future.

This is in line with the National Cabinet’s agreement of 31 August 2022 on the importance of delivering nationally significant energy transmission projects and supporting regional communities and workforces to seize the opportunities arising from Australia’s transition to a zero-emission economy. “

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