Newcastle Herald, by Michael Mazengarb

Australia could drive as much as $36 billion in new investment in green industries in the coal hubs of the Gladstone and Hunter regions if the federal government came to the table to back such a plan.

Beyond Zero Emissions says just $6 billion in federal government funding could unlock up to six times as much private sector investment in green energy technologies, exports and zero emissions industries.

The group is proposing dedicated renewable energy industrial precincts that would see the Gladstone and Hunter Regions – long home to Australia’s coal industries – transformed into new manufacturing and export ‘powerhouses’, fuelled by renewables.

“Australian manufacturing is being revitalised thanks to renewable energy, attracting new investment, protecting jobs now, and creating thousands of new jobs for the future,” said Beyond Zero Emissions chief executive Heidi Lee said.

“Renewable Energy Industrial Precincts are the smart way to take advantage of this boom, turbocharging our industrial heartlands with low-cost renewable energy to make the goods the new economy demands: green steel and aluminium, hydrogen, ammonia and chemicals, critical minerals and battery manufacturing.”

“The Hunter and Gladstone have long been energy and export powerhouses, and Renewable Energy Industrial Precincts will continue that proud tradition long into the future.”

Beyond Zero Emissions has produced an analysis that suggests the creation of the Renewable Energy Industrial Precincts would bring up to $36 billion in new investment into the Gladstone and the Hunter regions, creating 45,000 new jobs and generating $13 billion in annual revenues.

Under the Renewable Energy Industrial Precincts proposal, supplies of renewables would be used to underpin investment in new green manufacturing industries, as well as decarbonising existing, traditional, manufacturing industries. It would also support the development of new green energy export opportunities.

The investment potential exists for new renewable energy export opportunities, including in the production of renewable hydrogen and ammonia and using lower cost supplies of renewable energy in the production of products like steel, aluminium, and batteries.

The group said lower electricity costs, thanks to renewables, is already causing a revival of Australia’s manufacturing industries, and this will support both new initiatives and help traditional industries decarbonise.

“The Hunter is the most advanced of the Renewable Energy Industrial Precincts, with more than enough new energy potential for existing industry giants to realise their decarbonisation commitments and enough to fast-track emerging green industries,” BZE said in a statement.

In a pre-election pitch, BZE said that federal government support could help unlock this massive potential for clean energy investment – a model that could be replicated across multiple industrial hubs.

However, Beyond Zero Emissions said there remains a need for federal government funding to underpin the development of the Renewable Energy Industrial Precincts and called for $6.3 billion in investment support to be provided over the next ten years.

“Business alone cannot be expected to build and coordinate the infrastructure needed for a REIP, especially with so many businesses entering the green export industry,” Lee said.

“Governments helped build our rail, road, energy and telecommunications infrastructure, and now we need to ramp up our renewable energy capacity and develop REIPs.”

“Building REIPs will be a big nation-building project, larger than the Snowy Mountains scheme but with much greater returns. It is building the energy infrastructure that will power our industries into the future and future-proof manufacturing.”

“Never has the role of government been so critical. A REIP needs funding and planning and collaboration between industry and government,” Lee added.

The chief executive of the Committee for the Hunter, Alice Thompson, representing the group that is advocating for businesses and community ventures within the region, said that it was now time to deliver on the region’s green industry potential.

“It’s time to move the conversation forward from the opportunity of clean energy jobs to the plan and secure the partnerships and the resources to get there,” Thompson said.

“BZE’s Hunter REIP offers a strategic place-based vehicle to do just this, tackling the fundamental challenge of how to decarbonise heavy industries, manufacturing to protect jobs and keep them competitive in the new energy economy.”