Billionare steel magnate Sanjeev Gupta has unveiled more sensational details of his plans to transform Whyalla into a green industrial hub, powered by hundreds of megawatts of solar and storage.
The latest plans for the South Australian city that former PM Tony Abbott once warned would become a ghost town under a carbon tax are mostly of an industrial nature, but it’s worth remembering that all of Gupta’s plans are built on a foundation of cheap renewable energy.
In a “big reveal” that drew Australia’s top politicians (including our coal-loving PM, Scott Morrison), the visionary chief of the GFG Alliance revealed plans to give the existing steelworks a $600 million upgrade, and investigate the feasibility of building a massive new steelworks in the city.
This would boost the steel production capacity of the existing plant to a maximum of 1.8 million tonnes, and potentially another 10 million tonnes from the new plant.
“Our cutting‐edge transformation plans for our existing steel plant are just the beginning of what GFG Alliance has in store for the region,” Gupta said in a statement on Monday.
“Utilising almost perfect local conditions – our own infrastructure including a deep‐sea port; rich local resources; and unrivalled community passion – we now plan to build a new steel plant, one of the world’s largest, right here in Whyalla.
On top of this, Gupta has revealed that a $45 million four-star hotel will be built in Whyalla, and two other new major businesses established, including a China-backed $145 million horticulture operation, and a $6 million organics recycling business.
So, as we noted around this time last year: Whyalla is not a ghost town at all – even despite the closure of the nearby coal generator that was forecast to destroy industry in the state.
In fact, it’s about as far away from it as you can get – the expansion of the existing steel plant, alone, is expected to create 2500 jobs. And it’s all underpinned by renewable energy.
Powering the soon-to-be-expanded steel plant will be Gupta’s 280MW Cultana solar farm, which is due to begin formal construction early next year following a ground-breaking ceremony in August.
“Today’s event is symbolic of our desire to develop and invest in new‐generation energy assets that will bring down Australia’s electricity prices to competitive levels again, as well as our commitment to local and regional Australia,” Gupta said at the time.
“In particular, this signals the beginning of our journey with a number of stakeholders to not only transform GFG’s operations in Whyalla, but also further enhance the appeal of this great city.”
Cultana is to be followed by a second stage of the solar farm, as well as a 120MW/140MWh lithium-ion battery, a major pumped hydro project in dis-used iron ore mines in the nearby Middleback Ranges, and co-generation at the steelworks themselves.
Meanwhile, work has began on a 140MW solar farm being built north of Whyalla by the renewables arm of Indian energy giant Adani, after the company received the final green light for the project.
The $200 million project by Adani – whose name is more often associated in Australia with its controversial plans to develop the nation’s largest coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin – is expected to generate 100MW, with a potential capacity of 140MW, and the option to add battery storage.
Adani Renewables Australia chief Jennifer Purdie said her team was in the process of finalising its own contracts for energy supply to underpin the Whyalla project.
“We recognise the aspirations of South Australians to deliver a reliable energy network through renewables,” Purdie said.
“Adani Renewables Australia is eager to provide energy solutions to this ambition by contributing to an energy mix that is reliable, secure and affordable for all customers as we transition to a low emissions future.’’
But Gupta, perhaps sensing that not everyone is equal in their excitement about Australia’s low-emissions future, also noted on Monday that GFG’s newest plans for Whyalla would need the support of all sides of government.
“It’s fantastic that both federal and state governments and opposition are here with us today to celebrate this momentous occasion – this great industrial endeavour has universal and bipartisan support,” he said.
“Naturally all stakeholders will need to be confident that the transformation will underpin the long‐term, sustainable future of the operations. This is the very objective of the program, so I am confident it will win widespread support.”