Santos' Narrabri project questioned as nearby REZ unveiled

THE New South Wales government has unveiled its second Renewable Energy Zone, this time in Barnaby Joyce’s seat of New England, with local community groups throwing their support behind the development.
Santos' Narrabri project questioned as nearby REZ unveiled Santos' Narrabri project questioned as nearby REZ unveiled Santos' Narrabri project questioned as nearby REZ unveiled Santos' Narrabri project questioned as nearby REZ unveiled Santos' Narrabri project questioned as nearby REZ unveiled

Eight GW development makes locals question the need for gas

Mark Tilly

Senior Journalist

Mark Tilly

The second REZ for the state will have almost triple the capacity of the first, with the state government planning for 8 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity valued at A$12.9 billion. 

NSW energy minister Matt Kean said the government would commit A$79 million to accelerate grid connection work to allow for the large quantities of renewables expected. 

The funding commitment comes after development proposals for the first REZ in the Central-West were swamped with 27GW-worth of investment proposals valued at A$38 billion.

"The New England REZ will be able to power 3.5 million homes and, when coupled with Central-West Orana REZ, sets the state up to become the number one destination across Australia for renewable energy investment," Kean said. 

NSW deputy premier John Barilaro said the new zone would "support 2000 construction jobs and 1300 ongoing jobs - all the while lowering energy prices and future-proofing the regions." 

It is the second of three proposed REZs in the state, as part of a A$2 billion deal struck with the federal government to receive renewables funding in exchange for unlocking 70 petajoules of gas for the domestic market. 

NSW Farmers Association president James Jackson told Energy News, while he was not philosophically opposed to gas, he believed the REZ would provide more opportunity in regards to future hydrogen development.

"We all do realise we have to go on a journey to a renewable energy future," he said, but added he would prefer renewable energy projects to be on a smaller scale, rather than the massive concentration of projects the zone will cater for.  

 arrabrijpg Santos is keen to spruik the jobs its Narrabri CSG project will bring. 


Activist groups Lock the Gate and People for the Plains said the REZs proved that gas from the Narrabri was not necessary, given the two proposed zone's would equal the amount of generation capacity pumped out by the state's ageing coal-fire fleet. 

"This is what Narrabri needs. Safe, long term and sustainable energy based on a free resource," A People for the Plains spokeswoman said this morning. 

"This goes to show that the groundwater beneath Narrabri doesn't need to be put at risk by Santos' polluting gas field - we can have exciting new jobs and industries without considering this destructive proposal." 

One of the main points of contention has been that CSG extraction could harm the water table farms rely on. 

However the state's Department of Planning found the project would not affect the region's water resources, and referred it to the Independent Planning Commission, which is set to hold virtual public hearings on the project over the coming weeks. 

As part of its push to convince locals to get on board with the project,  Santos and US-based Natural Soda signed a memorandum of understanding last week to use salt from produced water at CSG wells to create a new baking soda industry in Australia. 

"These are the benefits that would come from the Narrabri gas project - new industries, more jobs, business opportunities and regional development," Santos CEO Kevin Gallagher said.

A jobs boon has been one of the main arguments put forward by Santos, with fertilser maker Perdaman promising to set up a plant nearby once the project is sanctioned. 

However a recent study of the project by ACIL Allen and commissioned by Santos actually found jobs in the region could decrease. 

State Labor's promise to shut the project down if it won government during the last election earned swift kicks from unions angered the party would cancel anything that promised more rural jobs.

While renewable energy zones and the CSG development could be confected into another either / or battle, both pro-gas government and industry push the line ‘why not both' in terms of maintaining baseload stability for the grid as aging coal plants retire.