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  • Writer's pictureGeoff Russell

A tale of two projects: Wheatstone LNG Hub and the Asian Renewable Energy Hub

Asian Renewable Energy Hub ... blocked (for now).

Who remembers Kelly's Bush? You probably need to have been alive in the 1970s in Sydney to have even heard of it. It was (and is) some 7 hectares of bushland on Sydney's North Shore and is sometimes regarded as the birth place of environmentalism in Australia. There was a fierce battle to save those 7ha from development. The Builders Labourers Federation put a "black ban" on the site; meaning no work. The word soon morphed into green ban and the tactic was employed frequently during that era to fight against projects which threaten biodiversity.

I wrote about Kelly's Bush back in 2009. I was in Sydney during the 1970s, and have some first hand memories of the period, but what I didn't realise then was that while Kelly's Bush was being fought over, some 20,000 hectares of primary rain forest was being cleared in Far North Queensland for cattle, not far from where Jack Mundey grew up. Mundey was a BLF leader and great supporter of the Kelly's Bush fight; among others. I could speculate that some of the demonstrators on the picket lines may have been feeding on beef sandwiches with meat from those deforested rainforest hectares.

That's pretty much the story of environmentalism in Australia and elsewhere. Our Greens even support the beef industry, despite it having always been the principle driver of land clearing in Australia; and despite it being a bigger influence on warming than all of our coal powerstations.

So much for background. This piece is about the Asian Renewable Energy Hub (AREH) and, for comparison, the Wheatstone LNG Hub ... in a similar part of the world; northern Western Australia.

The Federal Government, by way of Minister Sussan Ley, has just blocked the AREH and all manner of people, from WA Premier McGowan through to the Clean Energy Council aren't happy about it.

The project area of the AREH is 662,400 hectares. Some 20,800 ha will be cleared (that's 2971 times the area of Kelly's Bush). The original proposal was only going to clear about 11,000 ha, but the latest revision wants to clear considerably more. By comparison, the Wheatstone LNG hub uses a notional figure of 3,300 ha as the size of the area cleared ... meaning they just assumed that the entire project area is being cleared, even though it wasn't. Over a period of 7 years, during preparation, Wheatstone relocated some 30,000 animals from 1,000 ha, which is probably a more accurate estimate of the actual area cleared.

Will the AREH proponents be doing likewise? ... assuming they eventually get the go-ahead from some future Government. Or will the wildlife just be ground under the dozers with its habitat?

The LNG industry has to be shut down, but is wind and solar the right way of replacing it?

Wind and solar are low carbon, but are they minimally environmentally benign? Or can we do better? Remember we have two global crises we are facing, the climate problem is both urgent and critical, but so also is the biodiversity problem.

It's worth thinking about what we must do to get rid of LNG, because the AREH won't do it; not by a long shot.

The revised plan for the AREH is to use its 1743x9MW wind turbines together with 10,800 MW of solar PV to generate ammonia and hydrogen for export. Based on the current information on the website, I calculate that they can make about 8 million tonnes of ammonia each year, assuming they put all their capacity to ammonia. How much ammonia would you need to be making to replace the energy exported as LNG from Wheatstone? Over 25 million tonnes per year. And you'd need another 44 million tonnes of ammonia per year to replace the energy output from the Gorgon LNG plant ... and there's another 8 more either producing now or in the near future.

So the AREH, already rather a large project, is only the first of many; assuming we will eventually get serious about getting rid of LNG. AREH is massive in size, but its output is rather small when compared to what we need. AREH is about 1/10th the size of Tasmania, so by the time you build a bunch more, you will have an area at least the size of the apple isle. Bob Brown, are you listening?

Does Sussan Ley care or is she just a puppet? Given her principled opposition to the barbarism that is our live export trade, despite considerable pressure from other Liberals and Nationals, then I'm guessing she probably does. But it's also interesting to look at her stated reasons for the decision.

She lists international agreements with China, Korea and Japan on migratory birds. Do our Greens want us to break these agreements? If this was an LNG project, then I suggest they'd be holding these agreements up high and demanding we honor them. Ley also lists our Ramsar wetlands obligations ... with regard to two welands in the area. That would also be held high by our Greens in other circumstances. Again, who wants us to break these? She cites the Commonwealth Wildlife Conservation plan for Migratory Waterbirds. Should we ignore this?

But wait there's more. I confess to not having done a detailed assessment of all 20 odd documents to know if she's padding the argument a little ... or a lot.

But it is blindingly obvious that any ammonia generated by this scheme will not be green, even if it is low carbon. It has a massive eco-footprint.

Do any of our disappointed environmentalists care? After all, they let this happen. It wasn't inevitable. We have uranium, we don't need gas. We didn't need to go down that route, but our Greens and ALP are far more anti-nuclear than they are pro-climate or pro-wildlife; so they have been fellow travellers on the gas bandwagon for the past 20 years; even if they are recently born again anti-gasers. They were taken over decades ago and have never bothered to do the work to reevaluate their opposition in the light of current science on DNA, radiation and cancer. They've never bothered to ask if nuclear waste is actually a real problem or just an illusory red herring.

And now we are all paying a high price. If the ALP wins the next election, then perhaps the AREH will get fast tracked and all those documents cited by Sussan Ley will disappear with a wave of some Ministerial hand. But it isn't too late for an explosion of rationality ... I hope.



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