For the last eight months I have been travelling the length and breadth of Queensland. I have seen parts of the state that many Queenslanders have not, and met with people from incredibly varied backgrounds. I have acted as the voice and face of renewables, often in areas considered to be coal country.
Overwhelmingly, I have felt welcomed and have been treated with kindness.
The political sideshow in this country is really just that. Or maybe to mix my metaphors, this tug-of-war. Each side holding the line. Two diametrically opposed teams, pulling on their ideology, where any individual stepping out of line runs the risk of pulling the whole team off. Or at least that is the public view of the situation. There’s no subtlety in that game. There’s plenty of subtlety when you’re talking to people directly.
I remember listening to the CEO of CleanCo present at an event at the end of last year. She spoke of the discourse she had heard in Gladstone, which was not about how to protect coal, but about how to ensure that businesses in Gladstone benefitted from the energy transition.
Anyone who’s spent time in Central Queensland will be familiar with the coal trains that make their way down from Rockhampton to Gladstone, burdened with their payload. Then back up to Rocky to do the whole thing again. Train after train after train. The folks in the township of Bajool, in their hall, have to stop talking for a while when the train thunders past. Then pick up the conversation when’s it’s gone, able to hear again.
And so the idea of Gladstone looking to new energy options is a big shift. It’s an indication of what the sentiment is, away from the public mud throwing.
I was in Gladstone a couple of weeks ago. I was presenting on a project that I’m working on in the region. It’s a strange feeling, not knowing what sort of room you’re walking into. Being prepared for any type of audience. How do you present renewables there? Focus on jobs, affordable electricity, economic benefits. Do not bang on about emissions. It’s a happy byproduct of our projects.
But I stepped off the stage, into a room full of people eager to talk about what the project could mean for the area, what kind of opportunities it could bring, what batteries could mean for the energy sector, etc etc etc. An outpouring of excitement and hope.
It’s been largely the same wherever I’ve travelled.
Of course, there have been those who are concerned about intermittency of supply, about coal power station closures, the loss of high-paying jobs. There have been valid concerns about renewables changing the landscape or encroaching on good agricultural land. Then I stop talking, and I listen.
To landowners whose families have lived there for 150 years. Who share their surname with the road to their house. Who look out their kitchen window and now look at a mountain, but who will look at turbines in four years time.
To local mayors who have less than a decade to figure out how to transition their town’s workforce from coal, when there are no other industries to shift them to.
To Queenslanders who are proud that their generators are publicly owned, and who feel that this trend should continue.
Where I can I try to provide clarity, or address some misconceptions. But really, my role here is to listen. And through this listening, to become more empathetic. It will make my project better, it will make me spend more effort in the right places. It will help to build on this groundswell of community support for the industry. It can change how people vote. And it can change the rope that politicians tug on. Maybe they will start disagreeing on how to reach net-zero, rather than on whether or not we should.