Australia’s energy sector is evolving at a breakneck pace. But what will become of the communities that underpin it?
As you motor along the shores of Lake Macquarie, the twin chimneys of Eraring Power Station, 200m tall, are visible above the coastal scrub for many kilometres, like a pair of horns. And then you drive up and over a hill and the whole behemoth comes into view, sprawled over a great chunk of the valley. Everything about it is super-sized. The hall housing the four massive steam-driven turbines is 800m long; it’s so big that workers use bicycles to get around. The shed that adjoins it, housing the boiler furnaces, is 30 storeys high and ravenous. Coal is fed to it from nearby collieries. Each year these furnaces burn through more than six million tonnes of coal – in the summer peaks it devours the equivalent of a thousand truckloads a day. It’s thirsty work; a concrete canal, two kilometres long and flowing like a river in flood, draws in 11 billion litres of salt water each day from Lake Macquarie to cool the superheated steam. Megalitres of freshwater are turned into steam to drive the turbines. At times this plant, 120km north of Sydney, has supplied more than a quarter of NSW’s power. Australia has a couple of dozen coal-fired power stations – Eraring is the big daddy of them all. But soon these great furnaces will fizzle, the raging canal will run dry and the turbines will spin no more. It’ll all be demolished and, on this site, they’ll build a giant battery.