MANTLE Mining managing director Ian Kraemer told 200 people in Mirboo North on Sunday that his company has no intention of mining in the hills.
Instead, he wants to dig black coal out from under existing open cut mines and sell that coal to pay for a solar hydro project.
Water, which is filling the unused open cut mines, would gush down through turbine-fitted pipes and into the concrete-sealed holes created after the black coal has extracted.
Solar power would be used to pump the water back up again.
Mr Kraemer, speaking at a public forum held at Mirboo North Football Netball Club Rooms’ said such a project would help the Latrobe Valley’s workforce transition naturally from fossil fuels to renewables.
“The old Yallourn pit is full of water. We’d have solar panels on top of the lake. Solar power driving hydro is the perfect way to transition and look after the planet,” he said.
“We want to leave the mining areas where they should be, get out of your lives and get over there (to the Latrobe Valley),” he said.
He was asked why the areas around Mirboo North had been included in the exploration licence.
He said it had been included as Mirboo North had a black coal mining history, but the lack of an open cut mine meant the area would not be viable for a solar-hydro project.
“We would simply walk away. We won’t be wasting our shareholders’ money in an area that’s not commercially viable.”
South Gippsland Shire Councillor Don Hill said he had been confused about what Mantle Mining’s intentions were.
“I couldn’t understand why a mining company was interested in Mirboo North when we are already seeing whole communities disconnecting themselves from the grid.
“Coal assets will be valueless in the future.
“But if Mantle Mining is only looking at mining in the Latrobe Valley, I look forward to announcing to the community at some point next year that the company has relinquished it licence in the areas around Mirboo North.”
Leigh Ewbank from Friends of the Earth’s Yes to Renewables campaign said the market for black coal could dry up, even if it is found that there’s plenty under the open cut mines.
“New Zealand will retire its last coal plant in 2018, the United States is retiring hundreds under Barack Obama, demand for coal is falling in China and India… If you’re going to mine it, you’ll need a customer.”
He said local communities, such as Daylesford and Hepburn Spring were leaving the grid thanks to community-owned wind farms.
Woodend, Yackandandah and Seaspray were all developing their own community funded wind and solar installations.
“It’s almost like there’s a competition between the communities. Even the brewery here in Mirboo North with its 96kWh solar system is providing a great example of what you can have locally.”
But Mr Kraemer said powering small communities was completely different to powering major cities.
Any coal seam gas?
Leongatha South’s Ron Wangman asked Mr Kraemer about coal seam gas extraction.
“If you going to be extracting coal, there will be methane gas in the coal seams that you’ll need to get rid of,” he said.
Mr Kraemer said this could be sold to heat homes.
“His rationale seemed to drop off a bit,” Mr Wangman said later.
“His main objective early was to put the green spin on it, and then he was talking about the bonuses of getting the coal out and the gas.”