WA budget banks on batteries and hydrogen

THE Western Australian State Budget, handed down just days after the federal budget, sets aside significant spending on renewable energy projects, particularly batteries, as well as further funding on renewable hydrogen development.
WA budget banks on batteries and hydrogen WA budget banks on batteries and hydrogen WA budget banks on batteries and hydrogen WA budget banks on batteries and hydrogen WA budget banks on batteries and hydrogen

Mark Tilly

Journalist

Mark Tilly

In his speech on Thursday when handing down the budget, state treasurer Ben Wyatt hailed WA's resources industry for continuing to support the national economy throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"The economic impact of COVID-19 would have been far greater if not for the efforts of Western Australians," he said.

"The continued operations of the  resources industry supported both the Western Australian and national economies, with the construction of new mines and export production continuing strongly." 

WA is the only state in the country to avoid a deficit during the pandemic off the back of iron ore exports. 

While the biggest attention grabber to the masses is likely to be a $600 one-off electricity bill rebate at the cost of $1 billion, there is plenty of other energy-related spending as well.

The government will commit around A$18 million over the forward estimates on renewable hydrogen initiatives, another $8.5 towards its renewable hydrogen strategy, plus another $14 million on its renewable hydrogen fund. 

The government also flagged the previously announced A$4.7 million it will spend on the Denham Hydrogen Demonstration Plant, set to commence in 2020-21, which will test whether hydrogen can be used to meaningfully displace the use of diesel to supplement the wind power in its namesake towns' electricity grid. 

The commitment to green hydrogen has been well signposted by regional development minister Alannah MacTiernan, who told a WA Petroleum Club dinner last month that it was hoping to kickstart green steel manufacturing, as well as noting the state would eventually need to start reducing its carbon emissions. 

"Our focus, the bit that we're trying to do, is drive the next change," MacTiernan said. 

"At some point we're going to be in a post-Trump and post-Angus Taylor world. There will be a recognition that we do have to do something seriously to constrain our carbon."

However there were some elements to assist gas production in the state, including a $1 million commitment to connect the Mid West Pipeline, owned by Horizon, to Clean Energy Fuels Australia's LNG production plant in Mount Magnet to supply nearby gold mining customers. 

The state's previously announced recovery plan also includes concessional port charges for LNG fuelled vessels refuelling in the Pilbara, totalling A$7.6 million over the forward estimates; $4.3 million will be spent this year to completed the purchase of a new marine crane which will support oil and gas vessels that visit Broome port. 

Another A$4.5 million will be spent for works to improve gas turbine reliability and security of supply, with ageing unit rotors to be replaced at the Cockburn and Pinjar Gas Turbines. 

However the government's focus appears largely on renewables, committing over A$60 million to renewable energy and battery projects. 

This includes previously announced A$30 million to install grid scale batteries in nine regional and remote communities, turning schools into virtual power plants and installing solar panels on a number of train and bus stations. 

The projects were welcomed by the Australia Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, the peak body for the oil and gas sector, however the lobby group said gas should continue to underpin these new projects. 

"When looking at the raft of renewable energy programs and initiatives the State Government is pursuing, natural gas will provide much-needed baseload power and reliability to partner these technologies when the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow," APPEA WA director Claire Wilkinson said. 

The Conservation Council Western Australia meanwhile praised the government for not providing further subsidies to the oil and gas industry, but said more could have been done to establish a carbon farming industry, which would help offset emissions in the LNG sector. 

"Requirements for the state's largest polluters in the LNG sector to reduce and offset their emissions could drive major growth in WA's carbon farming industry, however there remains an important role for government investment and policy to support the sector to develop and grow," CCWA director Piers Verstegen said.