Environment groups in Gippsland and Westernport Bay are calling for the Victorian Government to walk away from a contentious coal-to-hydrogen partnership with the Japanese government.

Victoria’s Legislative Council recently debated the Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain (HESC) project. Despite a pilot being announced in 2018, this is the first time there has been any public consideration of this project in Victoria.

Under the proposal, brown coal from the Latrobe Valley would be turned into hydrogen, piped to the Port of Hastings and shipped to Japan.

But opponents say the project is anything but ‘clean’, and it is certainly not ‘green’. “Having this project debated in the Parliament is just a first step. It only happened because a number of concerned groups collected enough petition signatures to force a debate”, said spokesperson for Save Westernport, Jane Carnegie.

“Public scrutiny and debate of this project have been missing from the outset.”

The proponents of HESC are a consortium of some of Japan’s largest companies with Japanese government backing and local partners, including AGL. So far, the State and Federal governments have supported HESC, pumping as much as $100m dollars of taxpayers’ money into the project’s pilot phase. “There has been no public scrutiny of this little-known proposal, but the ramifications are huge”, Ms Carnegie said.

“It’s simply not in the community’s interests to have a project like this considered behind closed doors.  We know certain Ministers in the Victorian government support hydrogen from coal, whilst others have expressed their strong reservations. The reality is that HESC represents a massive new fossil fuel project, and Victorians have the right to know what’s going on.”

Save Westernport is strongly opposed to the project, not only because its focus is coal-based hydrogen, rather than green hydrogen from renewables, but because it represents further industrialisation of Westernport Bay.

“This huge new fossil fuel project is highly emissions and energy intensive. It would keep coal mining alive for decades longer than planned.”

“We don’t think Victorians want the coal industry to be kept alive, not for electricity, and not for hydrogen. The truth is that making hydrogen from coal is more emissions intensive than burning it for electricity.”

The proposed transfer of the gaseous hydrogen from the Latrobe Valley to Hastings would require the construction of a new 150km pipeline across farmland and through the ecologically sensitive coastal wetlands around Westernport Bay. The HESC consortium proposes building a massive new industrial complex in the Port of Hastings to liquify the hydrogen for shipping to Japan.

“Every point on this supply chain will create new emissions”.

“Westernport Bay is one of the most biodiverse marine and coastal ecosystems in Victoria. It is a recognised Ramsar site because of its incredible bird life, attracting migratory birds from around the world, including Japan. Westernport is a recognised UN Biosphere reserve because of its ecological character. It provides a natural blue carbon sink, and is a recreational fishing haven.”

“Rather than protecting this highly significant environment, the proposed hydrogen liquification plant and shipping will add considerably to the existing fossil fuel infrastructure at Hastings and increase the potential for environmental harm,” says Carnegie.

“The communities of Westernport Bay do not want further large-scale industrialisation- a position made clear during their successful fight against AGL’s plans to import and regassify LNG.”

HESC is not the only new project on the drawing board for Hastings. The Victorian government has earmarked Hastings Port as the staging post for constructing several enormous new offshore windfarms in Bass Strait.

Save Westernport and several community groups have taken part in the early consultation process for the offshore windfarm project, which will be subject to an Environmental Effects Statement in 2024.

“We welcome this participation, but we want to be very clear to the government that Westernport cannot sustain both the windfarm project and HESC, side by side, with all the existing emissions-intensive industry.”

“The offshore windfarms are a key initiative of the Victorian government. They must be prioritised ahead of hydrogen for Japan”, says Carnegie.

“This government has set great targets for renewables and emissions reductions. Why would they want to jeopardise these for HESC?”

The proponents say the emissions will be captured by relying on a government funded CCS project called CarbonNet, but after some 15 years of funding, and hundreds of millions in government funding, CarbonNet remains unable to demonstrate the viability of CCS for capturing CO2 emissions, and is years away from testing largescale CCS.

“We say to both the proponents and the government, this project has no social, environmental or political licence and it should be shelved now.”


For further information:
Jane Carnegie
Vice President, Save Westernport

Julia Stockigt
Secretary Save Westernport