Forrest delays decision on Australia’s biggest hydrogen project, hires former gas man to lead renewables push

forrest willoughby bango wind turbine
Squadron chairman Jason Willoughby with Andrew Forrest at the top of a turbine at the company’s Bango wind farm in NSW. Image: Squadron Energy

The outspoken iron ore billionaire Andrew Forrest has again delayed the final investment decision on a major green hydrogen project in Queensland, but announced he has hired a former gas industry executive to head his private renewable company.

The Gibson Island project near Brisbane envisages a 550 MW electrolyser facility – which would be the biggest in Australia – to supply green hydrogen and green ammonia .

However, a decision on Gibson Island has already been delayed, reportedly because of concerns around the cost of the green hydrogen, and particularly the electrolyser technologies that would be used.

Shares in leading hydrogen electrolyser technology companies – including one time Fortescue Metals partner Plug Power and Bloom Energy – have slumped because of the lack of demand, and higher technology costs, and Fortescue’s own hydrogen technology is not yet commercially ready.

A decision on the project had been expected by the end of last year, and then shifted to the end of February.

A Fortescue spokesman told RenewEconomy on Thursday: “We are progressing our Gibson Island project, but we have more work to do. We are approaching this project with the same financial discipline Fortescue has shown for 20 years.”

A decision on Gibson Island is crucial for related projects, such as the huge Bulli Creek solar farm that Genex Power hopes to build in Queensland.

Fortescue signed last year an agreed off-take for 337 MW of capacity, which Genex said would enable a 450 MW solar farm to be built. But it is looking for other customer to boost the size of the project to 750 MW, and is also looking at a 400 MW, four hour (1,600 MWh) battery for that precinct.

Forrest earlier this week grabbed headlines in mainstream media for his appearance at the National Press Club, and his continued attacks on the fossil fuel industry, and the Coalition “bull dust” about nuclear power.

On Thursday, Squadron Energy, owned by Forrest’s privately held investment company Tattarang, has announced that the former head of gas pipeline company APA, Rob Wheals, will become CEO.

Squadron is arguably developing the biggest portfolio of wind and solar assets in Australia, with a target of more than 14 GW by 2030, and is already building the Clarke Creek and Uungula wind farms in Queensland and NSW respectively.

The former CEO of Squadron, Jason Willoughby, will become chairman and focus on dealing with regional communities. He is the former head of CWP that was bought by Squadron.

Wheals has some experience with wind and solar plants, as APA owned a number of hybrid assets including the Emu Downs and the neighbouring Badgingarra wind and solar projects in Western Australia.

Since his departure from APA in late 2022, the company bought the Pilbara assets of Alinta Energy, including the 60 MW Chichester solar farm (which helps power two Fortescue mines), and the Port Hedland solar and battery project.

“I’m both humbled and excited to be joining an organisation at the forefront of transforming Australia’s energy landscape through the responsible step up to renewables and the enormous economic opportunity that brings for regional communities and the whole country,” Wheals said in a statement.

“Squadron is perfectly placed to deliver the firmed renewables that the nation needs to decarbonise.” Firmed renewables means back-up from either battery storage or gas fired generators, and Squadron is already planning several of the latter.

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