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Woodside Energy Submits Application for a PV-Plus-Storage Project in Western Australia

published: 2022-01-28 9:30

Australian news outlets and renewable energy news websites have reported that Woodside Energy (also known as Woodside Petroleum) submitted a proposal to the Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority (WAEPA) for a PV-plus-storage project. The proposal application and other documents detailing the project were released on WAEPA’s website on January 10. Woodside is a major Australian oil and gas producer with gas fields and LNG facilities in the state of Western Australia. WAEPA has given one week for the input of public comments following the submission of the proposal.

Woodside plans to build a PV-plus-storage project at a site that is 15km southwest of the city of Karratha. The PV generation capacity and the storage capacity of this utility-scale project are set at 500MW and 400MWh respectively. The project will be linked to the North West Interconnected System (NWIS) and supply electricity to industrial end users, including Woodside’s own Pluto LNG export facility and the proposed Perdaman urea plant.                                            

In 2018, Woodside started to think about setting up a PV power plant that can complement the existing gas-fired generation capacity that powers its LNG operations in the region. The plan for a PV power plant near Karratha was finally unveiled in May 2021, and WAEPA confirmed it with the publishing of the proposal this January. In the proposal, Woodside stated its intention to “construct and operate the Woodside Solar Facility in the Maitland Strategic Industrial Area, located approximately 15km southwest of Karratha, in the Pilbara region of Western Australia”.

According to the information provided by Woodside and other news outlets, the proposed PV-plus-storage project will span an area of around 1,100ha. The project will “envelop” parcels of land owned by the government and the indigenous Ngarluma People. There are three main parts to the project: a PV array, a battery storage system, and a substation. Around 1 million PV modules will be installed at the project site.

Woodside will be developing the project in several phases. Each phase will add 50MW of PV generation capacity and is expected to take six to nine months to complete. The construction period is set to begin this year and end next year, though the project will enter operation with an initial generation capacity of 100MW. Each phase is expected to have an operational lifespan of around 30 years.

The electricity generated by the project will be delivered through NWIS that is owned and operated by Horizon Power. This transmission infrastructure includes existing, upgraded, or new components. All users of the NWIS will benefit from the project.

In conceptualizing the project several years back, Woodside wanted low-carbon generation assets that can dispatch power in a flexible manner. The company stated that the construction of each phase of the project will produce around 212kt of CO2 emissions, but the project will be able to offset around 100kt of CO2 emissions per year once it is operational.

Australian news outlets such as the Sydney Morning Herald have reported that the Burrup Peninsula, which is north of Karratha, has major indigenous monuments. The aboriginals living there have created more than 1 million rock carvings over a period of about 50,000 years, and activist groups have pushed to get the entire area nominated for World Heritage Listing because the rock carvings are at risk of being damaged by local industrial activities. Besides Woodside’s facilities for exporting LNG, there are also other industrial operations include Yara’s ammonia and explosive plants and the Dampier Port that Rio Tinto uses to export iron ore.

To allay concerns about environmental and cultural impacts of the PV-plus-storage project, Woodside said it will cooperate with the Ngarluma Aboriginal Corporation to preserve indigenous monuments. The company will also conduct extensive surveys before preparing the project site and has pledged that a portion of the existing native vegetation will remain undisturbed.

WAEPA is reviewing the proposal and has sought public comments on the projects for seven days starting from January 10. In addition to the PV-plus-storage project, Woodside is also planning to set up production capacity for green hydrogen. In November 2021, the company announced that it has acquired land in Tasmania for a green hydrogen and ammonia plant named H2TAS. While Woodside appears to be taking some steps in transitioning to clean and renewable energy, whether it is truly committed to the vision of a low-carbon future remains to be seen. With oil and gas being its core business, the company has a rather poor track record on pollution prevention and sound environmental practices.

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