You might remember the howls of protest last year when the Morrison government announced plans to build a $600 million gas-fired power plant at Kurri Kurri in the Hunter Valley. The plant was part of the government’s economic “gas-fired recovery” from the Covid pandemic, which would see millions of public dollars pumped directly to the gas industry.
The Kurri plan was highly controversial for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that energy experts claimed the plant wasn’t needed. The growth of cheaper renewable energy in the grid would see the plant become a white elephant before it was even built, and even Snowy Hydro – owned by federal government and the company who’d run the plant – conceded it would only operate at 2% of capacity. Community groups saw the gas plant being built for the gas industry more than the public.
Well, with a federal election due some time before May this year, the saga of the Kurri Kurri gas plant has taken another turn with federal Labor making an election pledge to back the construction of the Kurri plant… with one condition.
Anthony Albanese has announced that if Labor win the election, they will back the construction of the plant on the condition that by 2030 it is running entirely on green hydrogen, not gas. [Green hydrogen is manufactured using renewable energy, as opposed to “blue hydrogen” which is made using gas]. The plant is scheduled to be operational by 2023 as a gas plant, with Labor proposing to transition it gradually to hydrogen by 2030. Energy experts however have stated that retrofitting the gas plant to run on hydrogen would be almost prohibitively expensive.
“Now the cheapest form of clean energy is through renewables,” said Albanese, announcing the plan. “And the cost of producing green hydrogen will fall.” Labor’s announcement comes on the back of news that in the December 2021 quarter renewable energy broke a record, accounting for 34.9% of electricity generated in Australia. This was up from the previous record of 31%, set in the previous quarter. This growth in renewables in the grid is on the back of large-scale wind and solar farms coming online, as well as the uptake of home solar. Conversely, in the December quarter black coal fell to its lowest share of generation on record, while gas fell to its lowest share since 2003.
With the federal election to be held sometime in the first half of the year, energy policy is shaping to be a key battleground… and the Kurri power plant has already become a political football. Kurri Kurri is in the critical seat of Hunter, a traditional coal mining area that Labor currently holds on a slender margin. Labor’s gambit on green hydrogen at Kurri is being seen as both a political wedge against the Coalition, but also a bet each way between fossil fuels and renewables.
Image Banner: While the Kurri Kurri gas plant has become a political football, local community groups continue to oppose it being built at all. Photo Gas Free Hunter Alliance