21/06/2021 - 11:30

AREH hydrogen bid hits major hurdle

21/06/2021 - 11:30

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The difficulty of building large scale hydrogen export projects has been brought into sharp focus after a multi-billion dollar Pilbara proposal was knocked back on environmental grounds.

Emu Downs solar farm in the Mid West. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira.

The difficulty of building large scale hydrogen export projects has been brought into sharp focus after a multi-billion dollar Pilbara proposal was knocked back on environmental grounds.

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley ruled against an expanded proposal in which the proposed Asian Renewable Energy Hub would produce renewable hydrogen as ammonia to be shipped to export markets.

An original proposal by entity NW Interconnected Power was approved in December 2020 to export power via a subsea cable, but the amended plan suggested around 250 shipments annually of ammonia.

Either way, the production of power would have been driven by renewable energy.

For hydrogen production, the electricity would be run through electrolysers in water, while the subsea cable would have directly dispatched the power.

More than 20,000 hectares of land was to be cleared to make way for wind turbines and solar panels, out of a 660,000 hectare development envelope, with 15 gigawatts of generation capacity in the first stage.

That’s about three times the generating capacity in Western Australia’s main South West grid, 

The project’s partners include Vestas, CWP Global and InterContinental Energy, and the reported cost of the development has been as high as $50 billion.

The development was given major project status by the federal government in October 2020.

But in a decision last week, Ms Ley noted the project’s impact on the Eighty-Mile Beach wetlands, which are Ramsar listed as a wetland of international importance.

“The minister concluded that the proposal would have unacceptable impacts on matters of national environmental significance,” a spokesperson said.

“This included impacts on the ecological character of the declared Eighty-mile Beach Ramsar site and migratory species, including seven listed threatened species and an internationally significant population of waterbird.

“The minister found the marine component of the infrastructure corridor would disrupt tidal movements and processes and this would seriously impact the habitats and lifecycle of the native species dependent upon the wetland and accordingly the ecological character of the Eighty-mile Beach Ramsar site itself.

“Any future amended proposal would be a matter for the proponent.”

A spokesperson for AREH said the consortium had been notified late last week.

“We are now working to understand the minister’s concerns, and will engage further with the minister and her department as we continue to work on the detailed design and engineering aspects of the project,” the spokesperson said.

“The AREH project represents a significant economic and clean energy opportunity for Australia, as confirmed by the Commonwealth Government’s conferral of major project status for AREH in October 2020.  

“The same status was granted by the Western Australian government in mid-2018.  

“The project developers intend to utilise the Pilbara’s world-class solar and wind power to produce hydrogen and derivatives for export to major Asian markets already committed to quickly decarbonise their economies, and to offer options for greening mining activities and adding value to mineral resources produced in the Pilbara.”

State Hydrogen Minister Alannah MacTiernan said the decision was surprising, made in a short timeframe, and had seemingly little engagement with the proponent.

“Managing environmental impacts of large-scale projects is extremely important, but it is disappointing that in this case, the proponent does not appear to have been given an opportunity to refine the project or respond to concerns,” Ms MacTiernan said.

“Given the importance to the environment of reducing dependence on fossil fuels, I would have expected more interest by the federal agency to work through the issue with the proponent. 

“We will be seeking further clarification from the federal government on their position on this matter.

“Renewable hydrogen presents enormous opportunities for our country, as a job-creating future industry and to decarbonise the world’s economy.

“If the federal government is serious about this opportunity, it needs to work cooperatively with industry and state government to progress major projects.”

The potential for environmental and land use problems to disrupt hydrogen projects has been raised by industry leaders in recent weeks.

Former Woodside Petroleum chief executive Peter Coleman told a recent Australia-Korea Business Council event that land use would be a major challenge for green hydrogen, although the business has been working on its own proposals.

“If you were going to replace the energy equivalent of Pluto LNG with solar, you’d have to cover the entire area of greater Sydney- not Sydney CBD- with solar panels,” Mr Coleman said.

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