Readers will probably know I have been a passionate supporter of the Purari River hydro power project in the Gulf Province of Papua New Guinea – a massive project with the potential to deliver affordable electricity to the majority of Papua New Guinean families, and businesses.
Between 2010 and 2014 Origin Energy and the PNG Sustainable Development Program seriously considered the project, with a focus on its capacity to deliver affordable "clean energy" to Northern Australia as well as Papua New Guinea. The respected engineering group, AECOM, did extensive studies on the project and declared it would be viable, but would need to tap into carbon credits to ensure that viability.
While the initial plan was to deliver electricity to North Queensland via a submarine cable and a overland transmission system – feasible but costly – that would have to be constructed, unfortunately the Australian section of the proposal was jettisoned at an early stage because of the cost, the reluctance of Queensland energy authorities to embrace it, and land rights issues on Cape York.
In 2014 Origin effectively withdrew from the project. And it lay dormant until Andrew Forrest visited Papua New Guinea last year and discussed Purari with the PNG Government along with a range if other potential "green energy" projects he wanted to advance to at least the feasibility stage.
At the time I welcomed his interest, and encouraged him to look seriously at Purari which would be the largest electricity project in Papua New Guinea, and world-class in terms of its capacity and the affordability of the electricity it would generate. To his credit, he has established a professional team to look at Purari and as many as 20 other much smaller green hydrogen and clean energy projects across Papua New Guinea.
Purari, even for the first stage which would deliver about 2,500mw of power, is not cheap – seven years ago it was estimated to cost around $6 billion.
If Papua New Guinea is to really develop economically, and the living standards of the nine million people genuinely advance, Purari offers the best hope of delivering both. In a country where industry is small and downstream processing limited it offers a way forward with wide benefit for the nation and its people.
The Australian Government ought to be in dialogue now with Andrew Forrest and Fortescue Futures Limited on partnering to deliver the feasibility study, and then hopefully, early construction of Purari. The PNG Government needs to assist with approval processes, landowner engagement, and infrastructure, as well as ensuring the PNG Sustainable Development Program to be a partner as well.
This project can be Australia's most significant and enduring contribution to Papua New Guinea's secure future. The PNG Government will need assistance with power transmission lines and other infrastructure and that is where the Asian Development Bank or other international agencies could contribute.
The sad reality is that barely 15 per cent of Papua New Guinea's nine million people today have access to reliable and affordable power.
The China Belt and Road debt funded Ramu2 hydro will meet neither need. The editor of
"On Line Opinion" has estimated the power it would deliver will be among the worlds' most costly, and it would be accessible only by a minority of the population
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