New owners of Cullen Valley coal mine push to reopen site near Lithgow

New owners of an inactive coal mine have received approval for restart operations as the historic mining region around Lithgow shifts away from fossil fuels.

Digging could begin within weeks at the Cullen Valley mine, which has been under care and maintenance since 2013.

The operation could continue for another decade if the owners’ plans to restart the nearby Invincible mine are approved.

A group of locals recently acquired Shoalhaven Coal and its two mines, straddling the town of Cullen Bullen, about 25 km north of Lithgow.

They have been given the go-ahead to extract approximately 450,000 tonnes of Cullen Valley’s remaining resources over the next nine months and then begin reclamation activities.

There is also an approved underground mine on the site that could be built, where there could be another 20 million tonnes.

Keep digging

Lithgow City Council Mayor Maree Statham said the region was able to keep homes across the country powered up and therefore had an obligation to do so.

“Right now there are power stations that need coal,” Ms Statham said.

“The longer they can last, the more likely we are to have diversification.”

There are plans to turn a nearby decommissioned coal-fired power station, Wallerawang, into a power-from-waste facility and house one of the largest renewable battery storage systems in the country.

Cullen Valley mine operators plan to send 1 million tonnes of salable coal to Energy Australia’s Mount Piper power station, which is only about 5km away.

They expect a decision to be made by the end of the year as to whether or not they can reopen a much larger project, the Invincible coal mine, which is practically neighboring Cullen Valley. .

Its former owner, Coalpac, folded after its bid to reopen the Invincible mine was rejected on environmental grounds.

Need coal now

Cullen Valley mine manager Kyle Egan said Australia needed a reliable energy supply as the transition to renewable energy gathered pace.

The approval could result in the mining of up to 1.2 million tonnes of coal per year until 2025 based on the few pagoda formations that have not been affected.

The company expects to recover around 2 million tonnes over three years if their soon-to-be-submitted bid wins approval.

The Cullen Valley mine moved into care and maintenance mode in 2013.(Provided: Kyle Egan)

“Until base load in New South Wales and Australia can be effectively replaced, we will continue to mine coal,” Mr Egan said.

Ms Statham said the application would be granted provided all regulations were met.

Both mines are primarily located within the Ben Bullen State Forest, which has recently been designated as the Stone Gardens State Conservation Area.

“It seems contradictory,” she said.

“They had to overcome many problems, they had to overcome many obstacles… [but] it’s a very small coal mine”.

Green light from residents

Cullen Bullen Progress Association member Elaine Deveigne, who has lived outside Cullen Bullen since 1947, said she saw the community crumble when the mines closed.

“Mines have always been very good for Cullen Bullen,” Ms. Deveigne said.

She said restarting mining could revitalize the area if it created jobs.

“It will give us something in town, we have nothing,” she said.

The ABC has contacted the New South Wales Department of Planning and Environment for comment.