Massive Pilbara wind and solar export hub gets environmental green light | RenewEconomy

Massive Pilbara wind and solar export hub gets environmental green light

Western Australia watchdog recommends environmental approval for massive Asian Renewable Energy Hub, including up to 1,743 wind turbines and 2GW of solar.


Plans for a massive renewable energy generation and export hub based in the Pilbara region of Western Australia have firmed up this week, after being recommended for approval by the state’s Environmental Protection Authority.

Environmental approval for the 9GW Asian Renewable Energy Hub was recommended on Monday, subject to conditions including consultation on management plans with traditional landowners and managing and monitoring impacts on migratory birds.

The project is one of a handful of truly massive proposed renewable energy investments, along with the 10GW solar plant and huge battery storage project initially backed by billionaires Mike Cannon-Brookes and Andrew Forrest in the Northern Territory.

There is another 5GW renewable energy project proposed for W.A., and numerous other plans also emerging as developers look to the possibility of renewable hydrogen, either to support the export of green fuels, or even “green metals” – value added manufacturing underpinned by cheap, green power.

Approval for the massive Pilbara project, which includes up to 1,743 wind turbines (an estimated 7GW) and around 2,000MW (2GW) of solar panels about 220km east of Port Hedland, also covers the installation of four subsea power cables – part of the huge project’s plans to pipe green power to both Indonesia and Singapore.

The consortium behind the project – which includes global wind turbine manufacturer Vestas, Australia’s CWP Renewables, Macquarie Group and Intercontinental Energy – had at one point aimed to develop 15GW of wind and solar, with a focus on powering local industry and exporting “green” hydrogen.

This is still the stated size of the project according to the website. RenewEconomy understands that the proposed balance is now 12.5GW of wind and 2.5GW of solar. Wind is considered valuable even its higher capacity factor and its night-time generation, but the mix may change again before the final investment decision.

Originally the plan had targeted 9GW, but with more studies the capacity grew to 11GW in late 2018 and then to 15GW midway through last year, representing some $30 billion in investment and the potential to generate some 50 terrawatt-hours of electricity a year.

The EPA approval, however, appears to refer to the original plan for 9GW, most of this being made up by wind power.

In a statement, the EPA said one of the key environmental issues considered by in the approval process was the proposed clearing of 11,962 hectares of native vegetation, and its potential impact on fauna habitat, flora and vegetation.

The EPA also considered the potential impact from the construction and operation of four subsea cables on benthic communities and habitat, marine environmental quality and marine fauna.

“Fire management was also considered a key issue, with a staged fire management strategy proposed to monitor the potential impacts and benefits of a landscape-scale prescribed burns program,” said EPA chair Dr Tom Hatton.

The EPA said that given the large distances from these important wetland habitats in the state, any potential impacts to migratory birds were considered manageable.

The EPA’s report on the Asian Renewable Energy Hub to the Minister for Environment is now open for a two-week public appeal period, closing 18 May 2020. Final approval for the project will be made by the state.

A final investment decision on the AREH is expected in 2025, with construction slated for 2026 and the first exports expected in 2027. CWP Renewables was not available for comment on the EPA decision.

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