Wednesday, July 29, 2015
Broken Hill: Mining, Solar Panels and a Love for Art
We are in Broken Hill - the Silver City. The silver that was found here became one of the most valuable mineral deposits in the world, together with lead and zinc deposits that were also discovered. In the early 1900’s the discovery of these minerals led Broken Hill to be the second largest settlement in NSW after Sydney. With more than 125 years of mining history, it has made history as one of the longest continual mining towns in the world.
Today, the red sunsets, the wide-open spaces, the rusty colours of the desert have also attracted many artists to the town. Our first stop is at the Living Desert Sculptures—massive sandstone sculptures carved out of rock by 12 artists from 5 countries. They slept up here for weeks to carve these works and it reminds us that often we need to escape our normal routines to discover our creativity. You can’t escape the mining memorial, which looks over the town from on top of the Line of Lode. Its hard metal exterior reminds us of what work in the mines was all about and the white roses signify the price these pioneers paid. Over the more than 100 years of mining history more than 800 miners lost their lives. One consequence of these harsh conditions was that Broken Hill also pioneered the rise of the union movement. Eventually, the miners won the right to a decent wage, the 35-hour week and compensation for those who lost their life at work.
We were pleasantly surprised to learn that AGL is constructing two large-scale solar PV power plants in NSW with a total capacity of 155 MW. The project at Broken Hill will deliver 53 MW and the project at Nyngan the rest. The total cost of this project is estimated to be $440 million and when completed will be Australia’s largest. We also learnt that AGL is Australia’s largest integrated renewable energy company with a mix of hydro, wind, biomass and solar assets. It makes sense to build solar power stations in places such as Broken Hill, given its high level of solar radiation. It is great to see projects such as this being constructed in Australia. While this project will enable Broken Hill to be more resilient with respect to energy, and it is a win for the environment, it still does not provide the economic and social benefits that a community solar scheme can deliver to its residents.
While in Broken Hill we also visited the Royal Flying Doctor outpost. While the majority of people in Australia live along the coast, there are many people who still choose to live in remote communities. Their lives would be a lot more risky without this service—the best of its kind around the world. Looking around the Broken Hill outpost reinforced for us the work they do in ensuring the best of care is available to people 24 hours a day. The Royal Flying Doctor Service also led to the creation of the school of the air, another invaluable service to the children who grow up in these remote stations in the vast outback.