The inquiry will also look into the impacts on regional communities from the current energy system. These will include the effects coal-fired power have on water supplies in a drought and the sector’s wider impact on the environment and public health.
The government’s latest budget forecasts are for little immediate change for coal. Mining royalties, 94 per cent supplied by coal, are predicted to total just over $2 billion this fiscal year and barely budge over the following three years.
Within the government, ministers are working to deal with the planned closure of AGL’s 1680-megawatt Liddell coal-fired power plant, and the integration of a flood of large-scale solar and wind farms before the 2020 federal renewable energy target ends.
Danielle Coleman, coordinator for Hunter Renewal, said the inquiry was a chance for people in regional coal communities “to speak for ourselves about how we want to prepare for our future”.
“We need a plan for a future that is less dependent on coal mining and that sets us up with new jobs and industries for the long-term,” she said.
Sophie Nichols, a Singleton student, said there was “considerable worry” in her town aout the future of coal exports.
“It’s clear they cannot be relied on and we need to prepare for change, and this inquiry is a chance to put the Hunter region on the road to renewal,” she said.
‘Catastrophic’ climate change
Prior to the March election, Mr Greenwich – along with fellow independent MPs Greg Piper and Joe McGirr – called on Premier Gladys Berejiklian to develop a 10-year plan for coal-mining communities if the government was “serious about saving the world from catastrophic climate change”.
Mr Greenwich said post her election win, the premier “indicated she was open” to the inquiry after the three MPs offered to provide support for the government in Parliament if required.
He said he hopes the probe will draw submissions from all sectors of the communities, including “champions within the government” for taking action to prepare for a lower carbon-intensive economy.
The five person 0committee includinges three Liberal MPs, including Felicity Wilson, a supporter of climate action, and Nathaniel Smith, the member for Wollondilly, a coal-mining region. Backing for the inquiry was unanimous with Anoulack Chanthivong, a Labor MP, the fifth member, also voting in support.
Matt Kean, the Minister for Energy and Environment, said his government was “focused on the reliability, affordability and sustainability of energy for NSW customers”.
Adam Searle, Labor’s energy spokesman, questioned the need for another inquiry after an upper house probe last year “thoroughly” dealt with the key energy issues in the state.
“We all know renewable energy is the cheapest new-build supply,” he said. “The time has passed for another inquiry – the time for action is now.”
Upper house independent MP Justin Field had sought support for a joint select committee for the future diversity of the Hunter Valley economy with the aim of taking a wider approach than just energy supply and generation.
The Greenwich-led inquiry will aim to report its findings by next March or April.
Peter Hannam writes on environment issues for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.