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Hope 'sweeps through' Australia's renewables industry but coal remains a major export

A monstrous pit has split the countryside behind a row of eucalyptus trees.

The black hole’s edges are surrounded by mountains of slag. Large trucks can remove layers of soil to get to the valuable commodity below: coal.

We are in Australia’s Hunter Valley. This region is rich in natural resources.

It is also central to a discussion about the country’s future policy on climate change.

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With a bold ambition of changing Australia’s reputation as a country that denies climate change and delays, he has elected a new Labor government.

It has pledged to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gases emissions by 43%, a much deeper cut than the 26-28% target set by the liberal coalition.

Labor also plans to convert more power from fossil fuels to renewables by 2030, and to spend more than PS11bn on upgrading the national grid.

We are here in the Hunter Valley to see how Labor’s plans could affect a community that has relied on fossil fuel extraction for many generations.

Nathan Dennis and his father work in the mines. He’s just completed four overnight shifts, and is on his way to home.

Image Hunter Valley is rich with natural resources

Dennis said that he is not worried about the future mining, despite the election results. Coal is one of the most important exports of the country.

He says, “I’m fairly certain that we have about 80 years worth of coal in the ground so it’s going to last me and my child.”

This is not an uncommon sight in Singleton, which has a population of 25,000.

Mining is the largest employer. Driving trucks in the pit can bring you up to PS100,000.

Singleton, Mr Dennis claims, would be “a ghost town” without the industry.

He says, “A lot of people wouldn’t have the stuff that they have without mining.” “We wouldn’t be able to have Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, and seven other pubs.”

Image Brian Craighead believes that ‘hope’ is taking over the renewables industry

Most rural areas have very little traffic before seven in the morning. Singleton’s peak hour could be Sydney.

As the night shift ends, the day begins, mining trucks, semi-trailers, and the ubiquitous Australian utility vehicles (utes) head in and out of town bumper to bumper.

It’s the flow and ebb of life in a mine town.

Some young people are beginning to leave the workforce because they are tired of working long hours and worry about their job security in a changing world.

Nathan Berryman was born in Newcastle, an industrial city that has a proud history.

After his time as a mine electrician, he switched to the renewables sector and took a job at Energy Renaissance, an electric battery manufacturer.

He recalls that a lot tradesmen in their sixties and fifties told him, “You don’t want be here when your age is our age,” when he first began.

They know the industry. Although it is a difficult life, it is rewarding. They were also concerned about the longevity of the job and the community.

Image Nathan Berryman left (left) didn’t want to work far from his family and friends

Berryman didn’t want to be a fly-in, fly-out employee. He wanted to live far from his family and friends at a remote camp in middle of desert. He decided to take control of his future.

Brian Craighead, the founder of Energy Renaissance, is his boss and he believes that his industry is poised for proud change.

Craighead says that for several years, it felt like we were lost (but) now there is hope.

“We were constantly stymied by politicians who denied basic science, so I believe the voters have spoken quite clearly and they want it.”

As Australia chart a new course to tackle the greatest challenge of our time, those in the resource sector might be asking: What’s next?

There are whispers that there is a transition towards renewable energy at cafes and pubs far away.

Some may be better off if they are already here.

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