The Hunter Power Project, a 660MW gas power plant, has officially been granted environmental approval, allowing for construction to begin on the Kurri Kurri-based project. 

The Federal Government is providing up to $600 million in equity to support the gas-fired power station, after setting a target for an extra 1,000MW of dispatchable energy in New South Wales following the Liddell Power Station closure.

Federal Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley, said the project had been approved after a rigorous assessment and on the condition that the project proponents, Snowy Hydro Limited, meet the conditions set by the New South Wales Government when it approved the project.

“This thorough bilateral assessment with New South Wales has paved the way for the development and operation of this new critical infrastructure in a way that sensitively manages, protects and rehabilitates the environment,” Ms Ley said. 

Federal Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, said the Hunter Power Project was critical to keep the lights on and power prices low after the closure of the Liddell Power Station in 2023.

“The Morrison Government is committed to delivering the Hunter Power Project on time and on budget to ensure there is no risk to electricity consumers after Liddell closes,” Mr Taylor said.

“The project is good for jobs, it’s good for business and importantly it’s good for securing affordable, reliable power. It will support up to 600 direct jobs at peak construction and 1,200 indirect jobs across New South Wales. 

“The Hunter Power Project is also vital to keep important businesses such as the Tomago Aluminium Smelter operating.”

Project met with backlash

The Federal Government announced its plans to proceed with the build of the gas power plant in May 2021, following a gas ultimatum that was issued the previous year. 

Since then, the project has been met with considerable backlash from experts, industry bodies and consumers.

Dr Ross Gawler, Senior Research Fellow, Department of Data Science & AI, Faculty of IT, Monash Energy Institute, warned that Government’s plans would generate costs too great to justify their means.

Many industry bodies have also voiced concerns over the damage that the project would do to Australia’s pursuit of lower emissions.

“A utility-scale battery for this site was the smarter choice both economically and environmentally,” Clean Energy Council Chief Executive, Kane Thornton, said.

“The Kurri Kurri plant is only expected to run for about one week of every year. When battery storage can deliver a cost saving of 30 per cent while delivering greater flexibility and significantly reducing emissions intensity, it makes no sense to be spending taxpayer dollars on this fossil fuel project.

“It sends the wrong message to clean energy investors and to communities at a time when the International Energy Agency says that there is no space for new fossil fuel developments if the world is to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.”

Gas Free Hunter Alliance Coordinator, Fiona Lee, said, “This announcement is bad for the Hunter, and bad for Australia.”

Ms Lee said the Hunter region needs “secure, future-focused jobs” and called on Mr Taylor to instead fund renewable energy and storage projects, and retrain those currently working in fossil fuel-reliant industries.

The Hunter Power Project supports the objectives of the Federal Government’s gas-fired recovery program, which it maintains is crucial to help the economy recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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