Gabriel Crowley (University of Adelaide) on behalf of the Australian Rangelands Society Council.  Email:


Australia is coming to terms with the need to decarbonise. This requires a transition from energy dependence on fossil fuels to renewable sources. In Australia, this mostly means wind and solar energy, with isolated opportunities for generating hydroelectricity (Department of Climate Change, 2024). While Australia is also rich in geothermal resources, there are currently no viable geothermal projects in the country (Clean Energy Council, 2024).

Traditionally, transmission lines are required to transport renewable energy as electricity (Climate Council, 2021), which means renewable energy is more difficult to export than coal or oil (Australian Renewable Energy Agency, 2017). However, conversion of electricity to hydrogen and ammonia makes renewable energy an export commodity; and provides a potential source of urea for agricultural fertiliser.

The Rangelands are rich in wind and sunlight (Pittock, 2011). Land there is also relatively cheap, and competing uses less lucrative for land owners. Remoteness from traditional energy generation makes small scale renewables a viable alternative for many inland towns. Solar farms are currently improving the reliability of electricity supply to towns such as Barcaldine and Lakeland Downs in Queensland, and Broken Hill in New South Wales. By feeding excess energy into the grid, remote installations also help to balance supply and improve reliability across the whole grid (Hirsch et al., 2018). Large-scale solar and wind farms bring other benefits, including employment, improved infrastructure, and income to landholders. In 2011, a report commissioned by the Clean Energy Council estimated that a 50 MW wind farm provides 48 local construction jobs, and five ongoing maintenance jobs, with a multiplier effect producing 160 local jobs in the construction phase, and 12 local jobs during operation (Clean Energy Council, 2011).

So is there a down-side to renewables in the Rangelands? Like all industrial developments, renewable energy projects can have adverse effects on biodiversity, and cultural and scenic values (Hastik et al., 2015; Schuster et al., 2015). In addition, noise pollution from wind turbines can be annoying to humans, disturbing sleep, and possibly causing psychological distress at close range (Merlin et al., 2015).  Many animals, particularly bats and birds of prey, are vulnerable to collision with wind turbine blades, or are sensitive to the low frequency sounds the turbines generate (Thaxter et al., 2017), although some of these effects may be addressed by altering blade rotation speeds (Florent and Bennett, 2024). Hydrogen production also requires water, a scarce commodity in the Rangelands.

Whether these issues are a problem in the Australian Rangelands depends on how much of the Rangelands will be developed for renewable energy projects. I therefore searched the internet in order to compile a list of all current and proposed renewable energy generation projects in the Rangelands. I found a total of 87 projects, 29 of which were operational, nine under construction and 49 were at the proposal stage. Fifty-four percent of projects were stand-alone solar, 18% stand-alone wind, 25% combinations of solar and other renewables, and three projects combined solar with natural gas (Figure 1). The majority of projects will generate electricity (82%), 16% combinations of hydrogen and ammonia, and one project each was dedicated to heat and methanol production.


Figure 1. Renewable energy projects and proposals in the Australian Rangelands, showing: (a) energy sources, and (b) products.


Projects ranged in size from under 1 km2 to over 15,000 km2. The majority of solar projects were between 1 km2 and 5 km2 in size, and most wind energy projects were between 100 km2 and 1,000 km2 (Figure 2). The largest five projects are all wind-solar proposals designed to produce hydrogen (with or without conversion to ammonia; Table 1), largely for export. By far the largest of these – the Western Green Energy Hub on the Nullarbor Plain – is touted as the largest green energy project in the world.


Figure 2. Size distribution of solar and wind energy projects in the Australian Rangelands



Table 1. Largest renewable energy hydrogen projects proposed for the Australian Rangelands.

Project Area Bioregion Source
Western Green Energy Hub ~15,000 km2 Nullarbor and Hampton
Australian Renewable Energy Hub 6,500 km2 Great Sandy Desert
HyEnergy Project 5,600 km2 Carnarvon
Boolathana Project 1,480 km2 Carnarvon
Collinsville Renewable Energy Hub 1,440 km2 Brigalow Belt North



One way to assess the impact of renewable energy projects is at the bioregional level, as each bioregion has a unique set of environmental values (Department of Climate Change, 2023). The largest number of projects are in the Riverina bioregion, with three operational solar farms, one under construction and a further 11 wind and/or solar projects proposed between Wentworth and Hay (Figure 3a). This is followed by the Brigalow Belt North, with six operational and three proposed solar projects, and one extensive solar and wind combination project, mostly around the old Collinsville mine sites. However, the projects in these bioregions are dwarfed by the extent of those proposed for the Nullarbor/Hampton, Great Sandy Desert and Carnarvon bioregions (Figure 3b).


Figure 3. Top ten bioregions in the Australian Rangelands ranked by: (a) number, (b) extent, and (c) percentage cover of renewable energy projects or proposals.


The Western Green Energy Hub project straddles the Nullarbor and Hampton bioregions, covering approximately 10% of each (Figure 3c). Stage 1 will comprise 3,000 to 4,000 wind turbines and 25 million solar panels. It is on low value grazing land, which is covered by Native Title of the Mirning People. The value of this project in reducing greenhouse gas emissions is unquestioned. However, there are serious geotechnical issues about placing such large turbines on porous, fractured limestone, as well as on the vast network of caves, which is incompletely mapped. There are also issues with impact of water desalinisation on marine ecosystems, of disturbance on threatened cave fauna, and the impact on scenic values of turning the Nullarbor into an industrial landscape. Hence, this project is the main focus of the Save the Nullarbor campaign (, and the Australasian Cave and Karst Management Association (2023) is very concerned about its impacts.

The production of hydrogen (which is then often converted to ammonia) needs access to water. Production of one kg of hydrogen takes 9 litres of water using alkaline electrolysis (Lester et al., 2022). Hence, most hydrogen projects are either near the coast (and use desalinated water) or have access to a good aquifer (Table 2). For inland projects, water use is probably the more pervasive issue for the Rangelands. Aqua Aerem (2021), the proponent of Desert Bloom Hydrogen, claims to have a patented system for capturing water from the atmosphere in arid environments using solar energy. If this can be done efficiently, then there will be no need to draw down groundwater resources.


Table 2. Inland hydrogen projects with the greatest estimated water requirements, assuming a conversion rate of 9 litres of water to 1 kg of hydrogen.

Project Location Bioregion Hydrogen

(t a-1)

Water requirement (GL a-1) Source
Australian Renewable Energy Hub Inland Great Sandy Desert 1,600,000 14.4
Desert Bloom Hydrogen Inland Davenport Murchison Ranges 410,000 3.7
Green Springs Project Inland Tanami 365,000 3.3



Australian, state and territory governments are keen to foster the development of renewable energy projects. Most have a renewable energy target, and all Rangelands jurisdictions have policies designed to promote hydrogen projects (COAG National Energy Council, 2019). This includes expediting environmental and other approval processes. According to CSIRO’s HyResource Database, the governments of Australia (58%), New South Wales (22%), Western Australia (8%), South Australia (7%) and Queensland (4%) have injected $163 Million into hydrogen projects alone; and the South Australian Government has allocated $539 Million for its South Australian Government Hydrogen Facility at Whyalla (CSIRO, 2024). International interest is also high, with the German Government injecting nearly $30 Million into hydrogen projects at Whyalla and Townsville, and several of the project proponents are international consortia.

What role does the Australian Rangelands Society (ARS) have in relation to renewable energy projects? That largely depends on the views of the membership. Possible options include having a watching brief, and informing the members and/or the general public about proposed projects and their likely (beneficial and adverse) impacts as well as changes in policy settings. A more active role would be to advocate for such projects to undergo rigorous triple bottom-line assessments, and setting the standards for approval. The society may also decide to take a position supporting or opposing individual projects based on these standards.

We are therefore asking the members of the society to indicate their interest in renewable energy projects, and how ARS should proceed in this matter. Please help us in this decision by completing our 3-5 minute questionnaire at this link. We will report on the results in a future edition of this newsletter, along with the Council’s action plan for how to proceed.



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