The likely early closure of coal-fired power stations should trigger accelerated diversification investment in the Hunter economy, the Hunter Joint Organisation has argued.
The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) think tank and advisory firm Green Energy Markets has predicted as many as five coal-fired power stations will be running at a loss by 2025 and at least one faces early closure as the ageing generators struggle to compete against cheaper renewables surging into the national power grid.
In the most recent development EnergyAustralia announced on Wednesday that it would close the Yallourn Power station four years earlier than planned.
Hunter Joint Organisation chairman and Cessnock mayor Bob Pynsent said the developments showed economic risks associated with coal were accelerating.
"The time to respond to these risks is now," Cr Pynsent said.
"These power station closures could happen quickly, and frankly, I don't think we are ready for the changes that would flow.
"It's not just the jobs at the power stations themselves, but the flow-on impacts on businesses in supply chains, and facilities such as the Tomago smelter that rely on local energy."
The Hunter Joint Organisation, which represent's the region's local government sector, is calling on state and federal governments to fast-track investment in the Hunter to ensure families are not left exposed to the impact of the coal-fired power sector's decline.
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Singleton mayor Sue Moore, who is chairwoman of the Hunter Joint Organisation's regional economic transition committee also called for new investment to drive opportunities in new energy, agribusiness and defence.
"There is no reason for the region to miss a beat as our energy sector changes. Yet right now, we could be in a bit of trouble if things move quickly, as the Australian Energy Market Operator has suggested, and we aren't ready," she said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was unconvinced the demise of coal-fired power stations would happen as quickly as predicted during last week's visit to the Hunter.
"Transition is taking place over quite a period of time," he said.
"And the government is working hard to ensure that we both maintain the industrial base - particularly of regions like the Hunter - while, at the same time, fostering and investing in the transition in the future."
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