The most recent City of Karratha Business Breakfast Briefing (Briefing) hosted by the Karratha & Districts Chamber of Commerce & Industry took place on the 30th of November at the Red Earth Arts Precinct in Karratha and brought together over 200 local industry representatives to discuss the future of Clean Energy in the Pilbara. The event focused on the opportunities that renewable energy will bring and the vital role that the Pilbara will play in realising that change.

Keynote speakers included Mayor Peter Long, Yara Clean Ammonia’s Brian Howarth, Lucile Bourguet from Fortescue Future Industries and Gilbert + Tobin Partner Michael Blakiston, followed by a panel discussion with Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation CEO Peter Jeffries and BP’s Kelly Lamperd. The Briefing highlighted the enormous prospects for clean energy projects in the Pilbara and gave corporations an opportunity to showcase their current and future projects and discuss how the community and Traditional Owners will be key stakeholders in unlocking the full potential of the land on which the projects of the future will be built and operated.

Key Takeaways:

Climate change is an issue of international importance, and the world needs to act now in order to reach the goal of global net zero emissions by 2050. With the future of clean energy on our doorstep, the time for change is now. Although the renewable energy roadmap is largely untraveled, it is encouraging to see businesses and communities come together and contribute to achieving a common goal. Below is a summary of our key takeaways from the Briefing.

Pilbara Landscape is World-class

The Pilbara region stands out for its vast access to land, solar, wind and water. With the ability to harness, store and transmit clean energy, and a strong profitable legacy of resource development, it is clear why Governments are excited about building a hydrogen hub and associated technology cluster in the Pilbara. The City of Karratha Mayor provided an insight into the opportunities that would come from the proposed hydrogen hub, which will seek to drive industry collaboration across the hydrogen value chain and contribute to several new businesses and new trades, as well as the creation of many new jobs.

The vision is to capitalise on the Pilbara’s well-established mining and resources background to become the world’s leading hydrogen producer. Companies such as Fortescue Future Industries, Yara Clean Ammonia and BP, are integral to achieving this goal in the region. In the case of Yara Clean Ammonia, given it is currently constructing a renewable hydrogen plant, they will be able to provide feedstock to its existing world scale ammonia production plant in Karratha. It was acknowledged that becoming a global leader and achieving carbon neutrality is a huge task, but that the benefits will be realized by many.

Michael Blakiston reminded us of the significant developments that the Pilbara has been home to over the last 60 years and highlighted the need for us to learn from our past to achieve greatness. The land mass that the future projects will require are unprecedented, adding further complexity to realising these projects. The importance of the proposed diversification lease tenure in allowing for more diversified uses of Crown Land, particularly in allowing activities associated with hydrogen and renewable energy projects, was emphasized as being a fundamental enabler of the transition in Western Australia. The Land and Public Works Legislation Administration Bill 2022 (WA) was introduced to Parliament in November and is key to unlocking the true economic potential of land assets.

Training Opportunities are Abundant

A key element to ensure the success of future projects centers around training both new and existing workforces. The Pilbara Universities Centre and TAFE have been at the forefront of seeking out the necessary courses to upskill the workforce. Having access to local facilities with fit for purpose training and education is a huge benefit to the community and brings even more employment opportunities to the region.

Yara’s Project Director, Brian Howarth believes that the Pilbara has an abundance of skills at its disposal and the key opportunities and challenges relate to Traditional Owner engagement, the efficient and rapid allocation of the State’s strategic assets and resources and local workforce. With the demand for skilled workers increasing, the Government and industry leaders will play a major role in unlocking the potential that exists. Fortescue Future Industries’ Lucile Bourguet provided some comfort in respect of the unknown “clean energy world”, confirming that it is essentially the same science industry has worked with for years, only assembled for a different purpose. The key is to provide the necessary training to allow an existing workforce to develop and refine their skills, in addition to encouraging new workers into the industry.

Aside from building a highly skilled workforce, there needs to be a concerted effort around providing Traditional Owners with the opportunity to build their own knowledge around what is to come and placing them at the center of decision making. Peter Jeffries highlighted that, although the community are excited about the prospects of clean energy projects, it is a very complex industry requiring a deep level of understanding from all parties involved and Government and industry need to develop strategies to build capacity of the Traditional Owners. Building capabilities within Indigenous Corporations, such as the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation, will empower Traditional Owners and allow for fair and respectful negotiations on both ends of the spectrum.

Collaboration with Traditional Owners

At the core of the Briefing was the importance of the Traditional Owners of the land. Yara bases their success on building meaningful relationships with Traditional Owners, focusing on listening, learning and engagement from the start. This simple, yet vital, methodology is what all companies coming to the Pilbara need to mirror.

As key stakeholders in all projects on native title land, Traditional Owners need to be engaged, consulted and included in the discussions from the outset. The benefits and opportunities of renewable energy developments are enormous, however the effect on Country is often overshadowed and ignored. It is essential that we continue to echo Brian Howarth’s sentiment that “it’s not our land, we’re just borrowing it”, to allow open, progressive and educated discussions.

Zeroing towards zero emissions - The Pilbara remains vital As the world embarks on a new adventure in the creation of clean energy and the race to net zero emissions continues, the Pilbara remains a standout as the ideal place to realise these aspirations. Although daunting and unknown, the past success stories emanating from the region are proof that the capability, skill, and appetite is in abundance, and provides the key ingredients for significant growth in the future. Amongst the many challenges that lie ahead, the impact of major developments on Country and the voices of our nation’s Traditional Owners cannot be forgotten. 

Co-authored by Karmen Tompsett