THE state government’s apparent willingness to increase the use and size of the Port of Hastings has put it on a collision course with environment and community groups and Mornington Peninsula Shire Council.
The main points of contention at the moment are the government’s approval of Esso using methane gas powered generators at Long Island Point, Japan’s intention to spend $2.35 billion exporting liquified hydrogen gas from Hastings and a terminal being built to assemble and ship wind generators to Bass Strait.
The recent big budget proposals for the port follow years of relative peace on the docks with the defeat of AGL’s liquified gas plan for Crib Point and the moving to Bay West in Port Phillip of a container port.
Shire councillors last week voted “as a matter of urgency” to seek clarification from the state government about protecting Western Port’s environment with the project involving gasification of hydrogen made from brown coal and the disposal of carbon the process produces.
That decision was made in the same week that the Victorian National Parks Association launched an appeal to raise money to fight against Western Port becoming “an industrial wasteland”.
An email sent by the NPA’s executive director Matt Ruchel said Western Port was “neglected and under threat”.
Ruchel said the association and the community had defeated the AGL gas import terminal “but this time, it’s not to stop a specific threat, but many”.
Permanent protection was needed to keep the bay “safe, healthy … [and] remove the temptation for industry, developers and governments to exploit this world-class wetland”.
In council on Tuesday 21 March Cr David Gill said it was important to ask the state government to consider the Mornington Peninsula “before they just make another decision before our community has an opportunity to have a say”.
“The state government has announced it was agreeing to a hydrogen gas export program and now we’re going to be looking at what their intentions are,” he said.
After the Tuesday 21 March council meeting, the mayor Cr Steve Holland told The News that the state planning minister had approved a planning scheme amendment giving the go ahead for Esso to generate electricity at its Long Island Point fractionation plant (“Esso stands by to power up” The News 5/12/22).
“In recent weeks there has been renewed interest in the Port of Hastings and its future,” he said.
“[The] shire would welcome the opportunity to discuss with the state government their plans for Western Port. It is crucial that our community is consulted on the future use of this strategically important and environmentally sensitive region,” Holland said.
Gill said at the council meeting that the trial to export hydrogen made from brown coal in the Latrobe Valley from Hastings had failed (“Equipment blamed for fire on hydrogen ship” The News 20/2/23).
“How many decisions have been made and what information? We need to know about those decisions immediately from the state government,” he said.
Gill said the government needed to say “why we need to dig up coal to export as clean energy and … [not] worry about the carbon residue here. These are the sort of things that make it urgent”.
“I just want to know what [the government’s] intentions are. If you announce something, you must already have that information or are they still on the hop, trying to work out how to do this and whether they actually have the science to do it?
“If you make a commitment to another government that is a commitment.
“Or are they sitting on something and hiding something?
“I tend to follow the money, and when I saw there was an announcement of $2.3 billion for this to happen, it’s not really too smart to think it’s going to happen no matter what.”
Cr Sarah Race said the community had “very real concerns … it’s imperative we start the ball rolling right away and not let this get away from us”.
Cr Simon Brooks said there were scientific doubts about carbon capture and storage and asking for details “sends a message to the community and, hopefully, back to the government that we’re watching”.
He said there were “strong indications” that “green hydrogen produced through electrolysis is actually at a stage where it is cost comparable to gasification”.
Cr Despi O’Connor: “The only way we can decrease emissions is to stop opening new coal and gas projects in any form in this country, not just on the peninsula.
“There is huge evidence and a costly bill in the billions that have already shown that carbon capture and sequestration is a failed bid.
“This project will create an energy source, brown hydrogen, at the cost of large emissions that are created right here.
“Brown hydrogen is not clean energy. To stop emissions and to stop the sea level rising 1.2 metres, let alone our extreme weather events, is to stop removing coal and gas from the earth.
“Carbon is already captured in that form. Wouldn’t the money be better spent looking at green energy through renewables and transition away from fossil fuel?”
The Save Westernport community group said the government’s use of a planning scheme amendment to approve Esso’s plan “could be seen as a means of evading responsibility to the community and to their concerns, and of avoiding the need for appropriate conditions”.
“The possibility that the threat of ‘running out of gas’ was used [by the minister] to justify the speedy approval of another new fossil fuel project in Western Port, should anger Victorians, coming just days after the latest IPCC report on COP 27 re-emphasised the need to reject new gas and coal projects as a matter of extreme emergency,” the group stated in a news release.
“We believe it would be wrong if Esso’s threats to ‘curtail gas supplies to Victoria’, or to ‘reduce natural gas production for the south east Australian gas market’ held sway with the planning minister.
“The minister’s decision to approve the project as a result of Esso’s claims suggests how common, and effective, these seemingly baseless threats from the fossil fuels industry have become.”
“The minister’s decision to approve the project as a result of Esso’s claims suggests how common, and effective, these seemingly baseless threats from the fossil fuels industry have become,” the group’s secretary Julia Stockgit said.