Lithgow’s iconic coal-fired power station to be demolished, paving the way for a renewable energy hub

One of New South Wales’ oldest coal-fired power plants will be partly demolished today as Lithgow’s skyline is set to change forever.

One of the most iconic symbols of the city’s center-west, the chimney towers of the old Wallerawang train station, will disappear in an explosion today.

The two 175-meter-high chimneys and a boiler room were visible from miles away and symbolized Lithgow’s rich history of coal mining.

Wallerawang was first erected in 1957, at the height of Lithgow’s mining boom, when thousands of locals were employed in the industry.

The city itself was built for and around the station.

It was closed in 2014 after more than five decades of operation and has remained inactive since.

The site of the old Wallerawang power station was closed in 2014, but will have new life as a renewable energy hub. (Provided: EnergyAustralia)

The station provided up to 15% of the state’s electricity, being one of the largest and oldest in New South Wales.

Today, just over 800 people work in the surrounding mines and at the nearby Mount Piper Power Plant.

Become a distant memory

A young man in an old photo
Colin Robertson has worked in coal-fired power plants his entire life, and some of his fondest memories are in Wallerawang. (Provided)

One of the oldest operators living in Wallerawang, Colin Robertson, 91, said his job as a station operator was one of the best years of his life.

He started working there shortly after it opened in 1958 and much of his job was to repair boilers and turbines.

While many locals who enjoy the sights will miss the tours, even those who know them best think it’s time for them to go.

“What else are they going to do with it … we have to use it,” he said.

At the heart of generations

David Rawsthorne worked in Wallewarang from 1990, but has since moved to Mount Piper.

“It’s outdated technology, but it’s also part of local history,” said Rawsthorne.

He followed in his father’s footsteps.

“Unlike many people who work in offices, they don’t necessarily have a multigenerational workforce whereas in the electrical industry this happens a lot,” he said.

As a photographer, he said, it is a sight that cannot go unnoticed and many locals will be distraught.

“It’s old steel, modern electronics all mixed up in one.”

old wallerawang power station control room
The old power plant control room in action in the 1950s. (Provided: Ray Pippy Hemment)

A company saving stranded fossil fuel assets, Greenspot, bought the Wallerawang plant from Energy Australia last year.

It will make it a renewable energy hub, which requires the removal of most of the site’s infrastructure.

Over 40,000 tonnes of scrap metal and 25,000 tonnes of concrete will be recycled during demolition.

The old turbine room, the cooling tower and the shorter chimney will be retained.

The first project he will be working on is a large 500 megawatt storage battery that will connect to nearby transmission infrastructure.

The exterior of a large building
The Wallerawang power station will become a renewable energy hub and a site for a large storage battery. (ABC News: Jonathan’s Hair)

Greenspot also plans to transform the 620 hectare site into a business park.

Replace the jobs of the past

Lithgow City Council Mayor Ray Thompson said when the station closed, along with the Angus Place mine, around 600 hundred workers lost their jobs.

“None of these jobs have been replaced yet, so we see as a council that the reallocation of the Wallewarang power station is one of the things that will create a lot of jobs in our city,” Cr Thompson said.

Lithgow is facing a transition in jobs in the fossil fuel industry, confirmed when Energy Australia brought forward the closure of the region’s other power plant to 2040.

“We think it could be further advanced. We have to be ready for it,” he said.

Cr Thompson said that with companies like Greenspot revitalizing old infrastructure, there is optimism the city can face the reality of a renewable future.

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