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Posted On: November 17, 2020

Asian Renewable Energy Hub gains approval from Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority

The mega project Pilbara’s Asian Renewable Energy Hub (AREH), has been in the planning stages since 2014.  It aims to supply local energy users in the Pilbara region and develop a green hydrogen manufacturing hub for domestic use and export to Asia. If everything goes according to plan, construction is set to commence in 2026 with the first exports expected in 2027/2028.

Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) sanctioned approval for construction and operation of the first 15GW of the Asian Renewable Energy Hub project with an expected operational lifespan of 50 years, subject to conditions.

Ever since its planning phase its generation capacity scaled to 6GW, 9 GW, 11 GW and finally 15 GW last year. The initial plan was to export renewable electricity to Jakarta and Singapore via subsea high voltage DC cables. But later they shifted their focus in catering to the energy needs of existing and new energy users in the Pilbara region.

The project plans to eventually expand to 26 GW of renewable wind and solar generation, servicing industries throughout the Pilbara such as mines and mineral processing, as well as Asian markets with green hydrogen and ammonia. AREH  promises at least 3 GW of generation capacity for Pilbara energy users themselves.

The first stage will be the establishment of 15 MW hybrid solar and wind plant near Port Hedland. It would create many job opportunities for the people of Pilbara. This project will be a stepping stone towards the state’s Renewable Hydrogen Strategy goals from 2040 to 2030. Along with investing in growing green industries, the project creates job opportunities and thereby support WA’s economic recovery. There would be around 5,000 direct construction jobs during the 10-year building period, and 3,000 direct jobs created for the project’s 50-plus-year operational life.

WA regional development minister Alannah Mac Tiernan said that AREH “could transform the Pilbara, create thousands of jobs and be a major contributor to global efforts to decarbonize the economy.”

AREH is looking to build up to 1,743 wind turbines and a 2 GW solar farm. The wind turbines and solar panels are planned to be replaced halfway through the project’s life. It will also feature 14km of transmission lines to the coast and four high voltage direct current (HVDC) subsea cables.

Since the proposed project will cover a vast onshore and offshore development envelope of 662,400 ha, 220 kilometers east of Port Hedland there are some environmental concerns:

  • there is a need to permanently clear a total of 11,962 ha of vegetation
  • construction and operation of four subsea cables will have a potential impact  on benthic communities and habitat, marine environmental quality, and marine fauna.

EPA has found a way out. Since the wind turbines are 26 kilometers away from Eighty Mile Beach and 13 kilometers from Mandora Marsh, they feel any potential impacts to migratory birds are manageable. The WA environment watchdog has recommended detailed measures and actions to be carried out to mitigate any related risks for the regional flora and fauna. The site is home to a wide varieties of species. The EPA has taken into consideration each and every species and came up with recommendations.  EPA has laid out a detailed plan for cable deployment to avoid potential impact on the species of marine life. They recommended that the proposed work has to be undertaken by some low impact installation technique like hydro-plough.

 To avoid permanent clearance of a total of 11,962 ha of vegetation AREH can follow the lead of SA Water, who in their $300 million solar uptake revegetated almost a tonne of native seedlings under large-scale solar arrays. The ground-mounted modules do no harm to the native vegetation and the native scrub itself protects PV panels from soiling.

 AREH approval by WAEPA seems to ratify McGowan government’s WA Recovery Plan initiatives to bring forward the state’s Renewable Hydrogen Strategy goals from 2040 to 2030. The Recovery Plan’s first move was to top up the green hydrogen fund with a further $5 million.

Renewable Hydrogen Strategy by WA was born in July 2019 with the creation of a $10 million green hydrogen fund. The Strategy seeks to position WA as a major producer, user, and exporter of green hydrogen, thus playing a major role in lowering global carbon emissions. AREH approval is a first step towards WA’s green energy generation which includes the production of exportable commodities, like green hydrogen and ammonia, and green steel manufacturing

WA Premier Mark McGowan said the “Major export markets are seeking hydrogen much sooner than expected…” and so the “WA Recovery Plan is focused on creating a pipeline of local jobs to support WA’s economic recovery, while investing in growing green industries.”

  The project proponent, Adelaide-based consortium NW Interconnected Power, comprises Australian renewables developer CWP Energy Asia, a privately-owned developer of RE hubs Intercontinental Energy, Danish wind turbine giant Vestas, and global investment banking and diversified financial services group Macquarie. This makes it clear that Vestas has been confirmed for the wind energy side of the project, while the search for a solar partner is still ongoing. AREH is not merely a state-significant project, it is a globally significant renewable energy project.

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