Environment minister Sussan Ley determined that the $36bn project will have “clearly unacceptable impacts" on internationally recognised wetlands and migratory bird species
The Australian federal government has rejected plans for the Asian Renewable Energy Hub (AREH) in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.
In a decision dated 15 June on the government’s website, environment minister Sussan Ley determined that the $36bn project will have “clearly unacceptable impacts” on internationally recognised wetlands and migratory bird species.
The ruling means that the consortium behind the AREH development, which includes green hydrogen developer InterContinental Energy, renewables company CWP Energy Asia, wind turbine manufacturer Vestas and a Macquarie Group fund, will now have to alter its plans to keep the project alive.
“We are now working to understand the minister’s concerns, and will engage further with the minister and her department as we continue to work on the detailed design and engineering aspects of the project,” said the AREH consortium.
Asian Renewable Energy Hub in Australia dubbed the world’s largest clean energy project
The project, which has been in the planning stages since 2014, originally set out to generate wind and solar power that would be transmitted via an undersea cable to Asia – but the plans were altered by the consortium last year.
It decided a 26-gigawatt (GW) hybrid solar-wind farm would instead be used to power 14GW of electrolysers that convert desalinated seawater into green hydrogen – most of which would then be converted to green ammonia for export.
Dubbed the world’s largest renewable energy project, the consortium claims it would enable the creation of new supply chain facilities for the manufacturing and assembly of equipment for wind and solar generation and for hydrogen production.
About 20,000 jobs would be created during the 10-year project construction period, with 3,000 jobs created for the 50+ year operational period.
Australian Clean Energy Council seeking government clarification over project rejection
Last year, AREH was granted major project status by the federal government and the first stage of the development was given the go-ahead by the Western Australian government.
But, following an updated proposal submitted to the federal environment department last month, Ley decided to reject the project.
A spokesperson for the environment minister said the development would affect the ecological character of a Ramsar-listed 80-mile beach site and several migratory species, including seven threatened species and an internationally significant waterbird population.
“The minister found the marine component of the infrastructure corridor would disrupt tidal movements and processes and this would seriously impact the habitats and life-cycle of the native species dependent upon the wetland and, accordingly, the ecological character of the 80-mile Beach Ramsar site itself,” they added.
Responding to the news, the Australian Clean Energy Council said it understands the environment minister rejected the expanded proposal “prior to the completion of detailed environmental studies”.
“The Clean Energy Council is seeking urgent clarification from the federal minister for the environment to address the perception that this decision is inconsistent with well-established processes or with the treatment of non-renewable projects,” it added.
“We expect that the Commonwealth will work in partnership with the Asian Renewable Energy Hub to provide the necessary guidance to appropriately assess and address any environmental impacts under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.”