Qld poised as nation's 'clean engine room'

·3-min read

Queensland could become Australia's "clean engine room" of jobs and investment after a rich industrial legacy in coal and gas.

The "profound shift" from fossil fuels to net zero emissions will fundamentally change Australia's export markets and boost the world's appetite for alternatives, according to a Climate Council report issued on Wednesday.

Central Queensland's potential green industrial future would also help protect the Great Barrier Reef, the independent research organisation said.

Start-ups are already bringing new technology, and attracting workers across all age groups and backgrounds.

Aluminium firm Alpha HPA, backed by federal critical minerals and manufacturing grants totalling $60 million, is building a $300 million industrial plant in Gladstone for new sustainable products.

Recently it had more than 350 applicants for 17 operator and laboratory technician roles.

"This is not just a bunch of avocado toast millennials doing this," Rob Williamson, chief operating officer, told AAP.

"The overwhelming feedback from them was that they're excited to be part of something that has a commitment to making a change, instead of being part of a legacy industry that's arguably part of the problem."

Most are Gladstone locals in Alpha's new workforce, which is almost half (44 per cent) women.

The region already has ports and rail to support new industry and is well positioned in the electricity grid, served by two state government-backed Renewable Energy Zones to connect solar, wind and big energy storage batteries with homes, businesses and new industrial precincts, the report found.

Companies making wind turbines, batteries, electric car chargers and buses, mining equipment, hydrogen and ammonia could be attracted by clean energy, a local industrial workforce and existing infrastructure.

Craig Haymes, CEO of the Gladstone Ports Corporation, expects the port to be Australia's leading hydrogen export location.

Big players such as Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest's Fortescue Metals Group have bet the firm on industrial change, pledging billions of dollars on liquid hydrogen to fuel shipping and heavy industry in coming decades.

Construction began in February of a green energy manufacturing centre in Gladstone that will be the world's largest electrolyser facility, using renewable electricity to split water into oxygen and hydrogen.

"Our challenge is to make fossil fuels irrelevant," Cameron Smith, head of manufacturing at Fortescue Future Industries, told AAP.

Gladstone may be the first push, but Mr Smith sees Fortescue hubs dotted around Australia in other states with abundant solar and wind energy.

Economist Nicki Hutley said new federal climate laws send a clear investment and industry signal that Australia is open for sustainable business, with Central Queensland a potential "clean engine room".

But she said state governments need to act quickly to ensure regions such as Central Queensland can capitalise on the world's clean energy shift and lead in green steel, renewable hydrogen, critical minerals and batteries.

The report recommends upskilling workers and planning ahead for coal closures, with transition plans for coal-fired power stations by 2024, and ending taxpayer subsidies for gas and coal fields.

A YouGov poll found half of voters in the Flynn "engine room" electorate that takes in Gladstone and parts of Rockhampton and Bundaberg agreed that regional areas will benefit most from more renewable energy.

However, only two in 10 believed their community was getting enough support to prepare for a future without fossil fuels, the August poll commissioned by the Climate Council found.