WA slams feds “premature” rejection of Pilbara renewable hydrogen hub

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The Western Australia government has called on the federal Coalition to work constructively to remove roadblocks the Asian Renewable Energy Hub, proposed for development in WA’s Pilbara region, describing the federal environment department’s rejection of the project as “premature” and “perplexing.”

Federal environment minister Sussan Ley determined late last week – seemingly out of nowhere – that expanded plans to build up to 26GW of wind and solar to power renewable hydrogen and ammonia production east of Port Hedland would have “clearly unacceptable” environmental impacts.

The expanded plans for the Hub, proposed for development by a consortium including Intercontinental Energy, Australia’s CWP Global, Pathway Investments and turbine manufacturer Vestas, were rejected by Ley despite the initial project having been awarded ‘major project’ status by the federal government in October 2020 and subsequent environmental approvals.

The federal environment minister’s decision to block the expanded plans, which include undersea pipelines for transporting ammonia, a desalination plant and pipelines and the construction of a new town, is believed to have come as a complete surprise to the project’s developers, delivered without any prior consultation.

And they are not alone in being taken by surprise by the decision. Speaking in WA Parliament on Tuesday afternoon, minister MacTiernan said the Labor McGowan government was “very concerned and perplexed” by the speed of the rejection of the AREH proposal.

“The decision appears to have occurred with no meaningful engagement by the federal government with either the proponent or the state,” MacTiernan said.

By comparison, the minister noted the time taken by the federal department of environment to assess the massive and highly controversial Adani coalmine proposal for Queensland’s Galilee Basin, for which approval was worked up over the course four years.

“The federal ruling [on AREH] was made just one month after the referral of the project was made,” she said. “By contrast, the initial Adani coalmine approval was worked on for four years.”

The WA hydrogen minister said that while the expanded AREH proposal did present some more complex environmental considerations that would need to be worked through, Ley’s decision to reject it at such an early stage was a major concern.

“The rapid rejection of this project sends the wrong messages about Australia as a leader in the emerging renewable hydrogen industry, and has potentially far-reaching implications for proponents considering investing in hydrogen in Australia,” she said.

“This project has the potential to show just how we can transition away from fossil fuels towards green energy generation. I urge the federal government to work constructively with the proponent to work through any issues of concern.”

Minister Ley’s office this week clarified that that the original approved proposal for the Asian Renewable Energy Hub that can provide 9GW of wind and solar renewable energy and undersea cables (approved in December 2020) remained in place.

“Minister Ley last week found that a revised proposal, involving expansion through the Eighty-mile Beach RAMSAR site and an ammonia plant, was ‘Clearly Unacceptable’ in accordance with the EPBC Act,” a department spokesperson said. “The proponent can resubmit a revised proposal.”

The consortium behind the project, meanwhile, is getting down to the task of doing precisely that – and appears to be doing so with cautious optimism and a sense of humour.

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