27 Sep 2021

Energy firms claim big interest in Southland hydrogen plant proposal

9:21 pm on 27 September 2021

A proposal to build the world's first large-scale green hydrogen plant in Southland is attracting strong interest from domestic and international businesses, according to those behind the project.

hydrogen logo on gas stations fuel dispenser. h2 combustion Truck engine for emission free ecofriendly transport. 3d rendering

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Contact and Meridian Energy say the proposal received more than 80 responses to its registration of interest process for the Southern Green Hydrogen Project, which includesengineering and tech companies wanting to develop infrastructure.

The companies said there was a strong focus on using green hydrogen produced from renewable energy for export and also to decarbonise carbon intensive sectors, including heavy transport, aviation, shipping and agriculture in New Zealand.

The proposal has not been universally acclaimed, but Contact chief executive Mike Fuge was pleased with the responses, and keen to press on.

"We'll be analysing the responses that we've received in this ROI [registration of interest] and then we want to identify a number of partners who we can move forward with, who are aligned to our vision and what we see as the potential for hydrogen in this country.

"We're still finalising the dates but I think keeping the end in mind, we want to see something that can get up and running by earlier than 2025, so that sort of drives the timetable that we have to follow from here," Fuge said.

He said he was keen for the project regardless of what happens at Tiwai Point after 2024, when the aluminium smelter is set to close.

The project is being timed with the proposed closure of the smelter, which would free up renewable electricity, but recent high prices of aluminium have led to suggestions it may stay open beyond 2024.

"Tiwai is one question, but the thing that really gets us excited is the opportunity potentially, where hydrogen as an industry gets underway in New Zealand regardless of what happens with Tiwai.

"There's enough renewable development opportunity in this country both in terms of wind and solar resources ... and geothermal for us to look very seriously at trying to get hydrogen as an industry underway in its own right," he said.

Fuge said the planned closure of Tiwai had sparked interest in the project sooner rather than later, but it was the long-term potential that he was excited about.

The next phase of the project would involve more formal discussions with shortlisted parties, followed by a request for proposal process to determine key partners and build out the wider supply chain and end-use customers.

Contact and Meridian said this process was underway and expected to be completed by March 2022.