Wirsol Energy, one of the businesses keen to build solar farms at Yarwun and Rodds Bay, has built a solar farm at the Whitsundays.
Wirsol Energy, one of the businesses keen to build solar farms at Yarwun and Rodds Bay, has built a solar farm at the Whitsundays. Tegan Annett

Round table paves the way for Gladstone's low-carbon future

AN INDUSTRY round table on Wednesday gathered key players for a discussion about Gladstone's future as a low-carbon economy.

It was hosted by The Next Economy chief executive Amanda Cahill, who has spent five years working largely with regional communities, particularly those with "industries dependant on fossil fuels”.

The event was attended by representatives from Gladstone Regional Council, Gladstone Industry Leadership Group, Department of State Development Infrastructure and Planning, Central Queensland Tafe, Department of Environment and Science, and Gladstone Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

"We've mapped out the range of renewable energy projects that are happening, solar in particular, and also the potential around green hydrogen and what that actually means for industry to be able to continue in the area,” Ms Cahill said.

"And then what are some of the challenges when you've got such large-scale industry that's been very dependant on carbon, like coal and gas.”

Ms Cahill said it was important for regional communities to prepare for the transition to low-carbon economies, something that was "already happening” and "inevitable”.

"Whether that changes now or whether it's going to be in 20 years' time, it's a massive project,” she said.

"We need to start thinking about what infrastructure we need in place, what needs to be financed, how do we look after workers in that transition - those were some of the challenges.”

She said a unique thing about Gladstone was the inextricable linking of its industries.

"It's not as diversified,” Ms Cahill said.

"You don't have other industries to fall back on in the same way (so) Gladstone is probably in a way more vulnerable, which makes people a bit hesitant to start being proactive about making that change - because there's so much to lose.”

However she said this could also be an advantage as it meant the power behind the city's industry was relatively centralised.

She said a definite hurdle was unpredictable policy changes on a federal level.

"There is plenty of money if we want to make the change, we have skills and we have industry that's already starting to plan for change (but) the problem is the politics,” she said.

"When you don't have the certainty ... around energy policy it actually makes it hard for everyone else to move and it makes it hard for investments to move. Investors want long-term certainty around where their money's going.”

Gladstone's renewable energy portfolio recently expanded to include a tidal turbine at Barney Point, installed in partnership with the Gladstone Ports Corporation and MAKO Tidal Turbines.

Also on the horizon is a 300-megawatt solar farm planned by Renew Estate for Rodds Bay, as well as Acciona's proposed $500million solar farm to be built within the Gladstone State Development Area.

"What I'm interested in is ... if the energy is cheaper what opportunities does that give regional areas for different kinds of manufacturing ... that they wouldn't be able to do before because it was too expensive,” Ms Cahill said.

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