Fortescue plans new WA port as farmers warm to wind turbines

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“We conducted a literature review to identify some potential sites. This is no small feat, so now the real work begins to engage with the local community and First Nations and find a suitable place for this to happen.

There are suggestions that the coast near Butty Head, west of Esperance, or an offshore facility could meet Fortescue’s needs. It is estimated that FFI would have to invest tens of billions of dollars to build the port, one or more desalination plants, an electrolyser, an ammonia production plant and a network to connect hundreds of wind turbines across dozens of farms. , some more than 100 kilometers from the city.

The $36 billion ($52.15 billion) Asian Renewable Energy Hub project, to produce green hydrogen and ammonia on the WA coast between Port Hedland and Broome, covers nearly 670,000 hectares. Its backers, including BP and Macquarie, plan to use more than 1,700 giant wind turbines and a sea of ​​solar panels to generate around 26 gigawatts of electricity.

The Asian Renewable Energy Hub plan.

The project Fortescue has earmarked for Esperance comes without some of the complications, including land tenure issues, that it faces with plans to produce 5.4 gigawatts of green power to produce hydrogen near its iron ore mining operations in the Pilbara.

Esperance was home to Australia’s first wind farm, and the local community has gained a reputation for being innovation-friendly since large-scale US investment opened up the land for farming.

Esperance County Chairman Ian Mickel said Fortescue officials, including Dr Forrest who bought beers for farmers at Condingup Tavern, have been in town and satellite farming communities in recent months to discuss plans and recruit landowners.

“They discussed with the farmers the opportunities to lease land from them and put their big wind turbines there,” he said.

“They are looking at a very large area. Some farmers want this stuff on their property. Others might say I don’t know if I want it at this point.

“Really promising” project

“I’m sure they will get a significant number of landlords to sign the rental agreements.”

Mr Mickel, a retired farmer and former chairman of WA government-owned regional electricity supplier Horizon Power, said FFI was negotiating in good faith with the local community.

“Our farming community sees positive in the work they want to do to have an alternative source of energy. It’s a big agricultural area and people keep wondering if fossil fuels will be available to run their important tractors, trucks and everything used on farms,” he said.

Fortescue spoke to the county council about building a workers’ village near Esperance during the construction phase and then increasing the housing stock in Esperance, which has a population of about 14,000 and is about 400 kilometers away. from Kalgoorlie, the nearest large town.

Ms Schweizer said a certain scale was needed to make the project worthwhile, particularly if Fortescue had to build infrastructure to bring green energy cargoes to ports as far away as Rotterdam.

“We are really in the communities all around Espérance to test if that appetite is there,” she said.

“Nothing is ever universal, no community completely agrees on anything, but I think the reception has been really, really positive.

“Landowners are thinking about their own businesses a decade or two from now, they’re thinking about next generation businesses and opportunities to get back on the land.

“They are incredibly knowledgeable and incredibly curious about anything that could help diversify their income… but also reduce their carbon footprint and make their own products more resilient in a decarbonized global market. It looks really promising.

Ms Schweizer said FFI’s plans for Esperance did not involve large-scale solar panels, given the quality of the farmland. She said there would likely be a patchwork of farms over a wide area with well-spaced wind turbines.

Karl Raszyk, who grows between Cascade and Scaddan, said there is a lot of interest in the FFI project.

“I think most farmers are on the same page and looking to reduce their long-term emissions and this project allows them to do that in a big way in the form of green manure or green ammonia,” he said. -he declares.

“One day we would like to be able to sell green food like Andrew Forrest tries to sell green steel.”

Mr Raszyk said green ammonia would provide the nitrogen farmers needed for their paddocks and replace fossil fuel-produced fertilizers, which would account for around 70% of a grain farmer’s carbon footprint.

“It would eliminate a lot of our carbon footprint,” he said.

FFI does not consider the existing port of Esperance, used for the export of grain and iron ore, as suitable for its plans.

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