Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest has recruited an ex-prime minister and a spy chief to help him in his efforts to create one of the world’s biggest renewable energy companies.
Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull will become chairman of the Australian arm of Fortescue Future Industries, Forrest’s newest venture into renewable energy and green hydrogen.
Forrest has also appointed Nick Warner, former head of Australia’s international agency the Australian Secret Intelligence, as his special advisor for international affairs. Warner has also headed up the Office of National Intelligence and Department of Defence, and been Australian ambassador to Iran and high commissioner to Papua New Guinea.
Forrest wants Fortescue Future Industries (FF), a subsidiary of iron ore miner Fortescue Metals, to become one of the world’s biggest energy companies, planning an astonishing 1,000 gigawatts of renewable capacity around the world.
That includes plans for 40GW in Australia, although as yet that is little more than a stated ambition. It’s that part of the global operation that Turnbull will chair. Altogether, FFI will have 17 divisions, focusing on different parts of the world.
FFI has taken an audaciously international outlook from the start. In the latter months of 2020 Forrest took a team of 50 executives on a whirlwind tour of almost 50 nations, scoping out potential deals with politicians and businesspeople.
Forrest says all that capacity will largely go to manufacturing green hydrogen, a fuel he believes will rival electrification as the carbon-free power source of the net zero world.
It’s the second renewable energy board position Turnbull has taken this year, after he joined the board of the International Hydropower Association earlier this year.
Turnbull’s focus on clean energy is consistent with his green rhetoric since leaving the Lodge in 2018, though in office he achieved little because of intense hostility among some Liberal and Nationals MPs to anything that had even the whiff of an emissions reduction policy.
It was his attempt to legislate the National Energy Guarantee – an energy policy that initially included an emissions cap – that precipitated a coup, led by followers of former PM Tony Abbott and fronted by Peter Dutton, that forced his departure. Though the Abbott faction failed to win the leadership (Scott Morrison did), strong federal climate policy has been off the agenda ever since.
“Mr Turnbull has been involved in key policy decisions that have not only altered Australian society but also have international implications for other countries facing similar issues including the environmental conservation and energy crises,” Forrest said.
“He will bring a level of vital experience as we continue our journey to bring FFI to a global audience.”
On Warner’s appointment, Forrest said: “Mr Warner’s expertise on global intelligence is incomparable, and his knowledge will be critical as we continue to engage foreign governments to explore green hydrogen opportunities.”
Earlier this month Fortescue announced a standing policy of putting 10 per cent of all profits into FFI. This financial year alone that could be close to $1 billion.
James Fernyhough is a reporter at RenewEconomy. He has worked at The Australian Financial Review and the Financial Times, and is interested in all things related to climate change and the transition to a low-carbon economy.