Alinta Northern Power Station in Port Augusta, South Australia

After long standing concerns about people's health and the environment, the coal industry ends in Port Augusta, however justice issues continue as the local community loses jobs and fears for their future.

Alinta Energy, an Australian utility, closed its coal fired Northern Power Station, in Port Paterson, South Australia, in May 2016, which shuts down the coal industry in the region. Alinta closed its Playford B power station in 2012 and Leigh Creek mine, which supplied coal to both power stations, in November 2015. There are many environmental justice concerns in this case including health impacts from pollution while the power stations were running, concerns that the community has been left behind now the company has closed and the contribution of burning coal to greenhouse gas emissions. From an economic perspective, the coal industry operated for 62 years in the region [Dulaney and Reid 2016] and was established so South Australia could be self-reliant for energy and to attract investment in the area, which it achieved, historically providing 35% of South Australia’s energy and more recently 15%, and contributing millions to the economy. The power stations employed 230 people directly, and when combined with the railway and Leigh Creek mine, this number went up to 455 people in the region [Alinta 2016]. There are multiple causes of the closure. Out-dated technology is one of them. The infrastructure for South Australia’s baseload capacity is old with 25% commissioned before 1970 and 56% before 1980 [Heard et al. 2015]; electricity demand is reducing and renewable energy generation is increasing. Some community members and particularly Doctors for the Environment (DEA) have been strong advocates for the closure of the power station, which has been linked to serious health problems for the local community including high incidences of respiratory illness in preschool children and lung cancer in adults [Doctors for the Environment, 2015]. DEA reported that the chimney stack was approximately 3km from the local town with a population of 15,000 [Doctors for the Environment, 2012]. The health impacts of living near coal fired power stations is receiving significant attention particularly as organisations such as Environmental Justice Australia highlight that over 3,000 Australians die from exposure to air pollution annually and are advocating for a National Air Pollution Control Act [Whelan 2015].  Some people in the community have worked at the power stations for decades, and are from families that worked there for three generations. The closure brings a great deal of stress and insecurity for these families, and has been described as devastating as people move away to find work. This is all within a state that is dealing with consistently high unemployment and increasing under-employment rates. Coal fired power stations are being closed and developments stalled around the world due to market forces and commitments to reduce emissions. Local communities and environment organisation are advocating for “just transitions” away from coal – a transition that supports communities and jobs, the development of clean industries, and environmental sustainability. The broader context is that Australia is heavily dependent on coal and gas for its energy and balance sheet; Australia is the largest exporter of coal in the world; the fifth largest coal producer; and has one of the highest rates of greenhouse gas emissions per capita in the world [Kent and Mercer, 2006], of which energy use is 36% [Wright, 2012]. If we want to try and limit global warming to protect ecosystems and species, we need to keep 80% of fossil fuels in the ground [McKibbon, 2016]. Wind energy generation capacity is increasing in South Australia and supplied 26% of the state’s energy in 2011/2012 [Australian Energy Market Operator, 2012] and reduced greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s energy sector by 25% over the last 10 years [Heard et al. 2015]. Although this could be considered to be a great success, renewable energy is highly politicised in Australia and communities and environmental non-government organisations relentlessly campaign for renewables at state and federal levels. All cases of environmental justice in Australia start with the injustice of colonisation. Indigenous Australians have at least 40,000 years of traditional custodianship of the land, and they have sovereign rights that have never been ceded. Port Augusta was a traditional meeting place for many local Aboriginal groups, as well as groups from all over the continent, and many Aboriginal language groups continue to live in the area through complex histories and co-existence with non-Aboriginal people [ABC Radio National, 2014]. 
Basic Data
NameAlinta Northern Power Station in Port Augusta, South Australia
ProvinceSouth Australia
SitePort August
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Coal extraction and processing
Specific CommoditiesCoal
Project Details and Actors
Project Details
The power stations were:
See more...
Type of PopulationSemi-urban
Potential Affected PopulationUp to 15,000 people, living in the town of Port Augusta regarding health [Doctors for the Environment, 2012], and including workers
Start Date01/01/2008
End Date09/05/2016
Company Names or State EnterprisesAlinta Energy from Australia - Owner of the Power Stations and Mine
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersRepower Port August campaign alliance involves:

o Beyond Zero Emissions

o Australian Youth Climate Coalition

o Port Augusta City Council

o Business Port Augusta

o SA Unions

o Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (SA Branch)

o National Union of Workers (SA Branch)

o Australian Education Union (SA Branch)

o Tertiary Education Union (SA Branch)


o 100% Renewables

o Conservation Council SA

o SA Student Environment Network

o Doctors for the Environment

o Climate and Health Alliance

o Public Health Association SA
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingLocal ejos
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationDevelopment of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Media based activism/alternative media
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Global warming
Health ImpactsVisible: Other Health impacts
OtherThe power stations have been linked to serious health problems for the local community including high incidences of respiratory illness in preschool children and lung cancer in adults.
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseNegotiated alternative solution
Project cancelled
Development of AlternativesRepower Port August is advocating for renewables including Concentrated Solar Thermal (CST) power generation for Port Augusta ( and in terms of energy generally, the most powerful winds in Australia, are in South Australia, on the Eyre Peninsula 300km west of Adelaide [Wright, 2012]

Local communities and environment organisation are advocating for “just transitions” away from coal, but that support communities and jobs, the development of clean industries, and environmental sustainability.
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.Australia is heavily dependent on coal and needs to transition, so from an environmental perspective, it is positive that the power stations closed. However, there are major concerns for communities if power stations close quickly and without adequate support. This is an increasing problem in Australia.
Sources and Materials

Kent, A. and Mercer, D., (2006), “Australia’s mandatory renewable energy target (MRET): an assessment”, Energy Policy, 34, 1046–1062

Wright, G., (2012), “Facilitating efficient augmentation of transmission networks to connect renewable energy generation: the Australian experience”, Energy Policy, 44, 79-91

Heard, B., Bradshaw, C. J. A., and Brook B. W., (2015), “Beyond wind: furthering development of clean energy in South Australia”, Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia, 139:1, 57-82

Australian Energy Market Operator, (2012), 2012 South Australian Electricity Report, AEMO


Dulaney, M. and Reid, K., (2016), “End of an era: final day of coal-fired power generation in Port Augusta”, [online], ABC News website,, [accessed 12 May 2016]
[click to view]

Whelan, J., (2015), “Air pollution control: the case for a new national approach”, [online], Environmental Justice Australia website,, [accessed 7 October 2010]
[click to view]

ABC Radio National, (2014), “Port Augusta: people and place at the crossroads”, [online], ABC website,, [accessed 29 September 2016]
[click to view]

Alinta, (2016), “Port August Employment”, [online], Alinta website,, [accessed 12 May 2016]
[click to view]

Flinders Power, (2016a), “Augusta Power Stations”, [online], Flinders Power website,, [accessed 18 October 2016]
[click to view]

Flinders Power, (2016b), “Leigh Creek Coalfield”, [online], Flinders Power website,, [accessed 18 October 2016]
[click to view]

McKibbon, B., (2016), "Why We Need to Keep 80% of Fossil Fuels in the Ground", [online], website,, [accessed 18 October 2016]
[click to view]

Doctors for the Environment Australia, (2015), “Media Release: Doctors welcome the closure of the Port Augusta Coal plant”, [online], Doctors for the Environment Australia website,, [accessed 7 October 2016]
[click to view]

Doctors for the Environment, (2012), "Illness and Pollution at Port Augusta; Doctors Prescribe Solar Thermal Treatment", [online], Doctors for the Environment Australia webiste,, [accessed 18 October 2016]
[click to view]

Other Documents

Photo, Peter Taylor, published on the ABC News website, 9 May 2016,
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorLisa de Kleyn, PhD Candidate, RMIT University, [email protected]
Last update21/10/2016