Australia Pulls Back On $36 Billion Renewable and Hydrogen Project

The Australian government has rejected a huge wind, solar, and hydrogen project worth AUD 36 billion located in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The renewable project Asian Renewable Energy Hub (AREH) has been called “clearly unacceptable” by Environment Minister Sussan Ley.

Sussan Ley declared the  decision in a release published on Australia‘s environment department’s website, where she stressed that the AREH project will have “clearly unacceptable impacts” on internationally recognized wetlands and migratory bird species, according to Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Indian readers will see shades of the challenges India itself is grappling with, for its own 20 GW of Solar and wind plans on the Rajasthan and Gujarat plains, now awaiting a decision after the Supreme Court made the projects unacceptably expensive with a provision for underground  transmission. The highest court did this to save the critically endangered Great Indian Bustard species of large birds.

The Australian AREH project has projected 15 GWs of solar and wind capacity, which is expected to expand up to 26 GWs and produce green hydrogen and ammonia. In September 2020, the government had granted the project fast-track approval status, promoting the jobs, clean energy for local industry, and large-scale export opportunity that it would bring. AREH is being developed by privately owned InterContinental Energy, renewables developer CWP Energy Asia, top global wind turbine maker Vestas, and a Macquarie Group fund.

And, the project had obtained environmental approval in December last year. However now, the environment minister has decided to reject the plan of expansion of the project. The minister in an e-mail informed that the chief area of concern with the current AREH proposal was around matters of national environmental significance, including the ecological character of the Eighty-mile Beach Ramsar site and migratory species, including seven threatened species and an internationally significant population of waterbird.

Notably, the proposed expansion came with a port facility for ammonia where over 8,000 people, including project workers, will reside. Along with expanded solar arrays, ammonia, hydrogen, and desalination plants and storage facilities, and a pipeline route for transporting ammonia, seawater, and brine through wetlands.

In response to the environment minister’s comment, the AREH consortium said in a statement, “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 project is on board since 2014, originally planned to generate wind and solar power and dispatch it through an undersea cable to Asia. However, last year the plan changed to use clean power to split water to produce hydrogen and ammonia for export.

Additionally, Australia’s Clean Energy Council on Monday stated that it expects the government will work with AREH to assess and address any environmental impacts. “If the government is to be taken seriously on developing a hydrogen economy, companies prioritizing genuinely zero-emissions projects should be assisted to reach a final investment decision,” said Dan Gocher, climate and environment director at the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility.

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Bhoomika Singh

Bhoomika is a science graduate, with a strong interest in seeing how technology can impact the environment. She loves covering the intersection of technology, environment, and the positive impact it can have on the world accordingly.

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