After more than 60 years of helping to meet the state’s fuel needs, planning is now full-steam ahead at the Geelong refinery to transition to a new energy mix.
Cleaner, greener sources of energy, such as solar and the emerging hydrogen industry, are now part of the future vision for the refinery which must evolve to have a place as an ongoing energy supplier.
And then there’s gas.
A move to construct a floating gas terminal at Refinery Pier is Viva Energy’s first major step towards its new future as an energy hub.
Viva Energy believes the refinery offers some unique synergies that make it the best place in Victoria for an LNG regasification plant that will address the forecast shortfall in gas production coming out of Bass Strait in the next couple of years.
While the State Government is investing in renewable energies and is encouraging less residential and industrial demand for gas, a fossil fuel, there is still expected to be a significant need for it, particularly during Victorian winters, for many years as a cleaner alternative to coal-generated power.
The Viva Energy board is not expected to make a final investment decision to proceed with the floating gas terminal until the middle of next year, but it has brought in international consortium partners and is moving ahead with the front end engineering and design phase.
It is also starting to ramp up community engagement on the project, including a community meeting this week.
Leading the discussions for Viva Energy is its gas terminal project manager Rob Mackie, who was raised in the Geelong region, returning to it a few years ago with his young family.
Mr Mackie is steering the project through a myriad of regulatory approvals which require detailed studies into elements including carbon emissions and environmental impact.
“The regulatory approvals process is the most significant scope of work that we are undertaking at the moment,” Mr Mackie said.
“We have increased our engagement over the past couple of months and there will be more engagement and consultation over the course of the whole year as we address the Environment Effects Statement (EES) requirements.”
A rival bid by AGL Energy to create a floating gas terminal in Western Port Bay has encountered vocal opposition over environmental concerns, including the impact on the local marine environment and the end-to-end carbon footprint of gas production.
But if it is the case that Victoria needs an LNG import gas plant, then the Viva Energy plan has some major points of difference, notably in its ability to re-use and reheat the seawater used in the process.
If it goes ahead as planned, the “floating storage regasification unit” - a large tanker moored at an extension to Refinery Pier – will hold up to four petajoules of gas, roughly enough to provide half of the state’s anticipated gas needs for a week or so, depending on the season.
It is envisaged that LNG resupply ships will arrive 25 to 40 times a year.
The liquefied natural gas will be processed back into a gas form at the terminal then piped just 6.5 km through the refinery and then underground to enter the Victorian gas transmission system.
Mr Mackie said the seawater used to regasify the LNG, cooled down that water.
“But it just so happens our refinery uses around about the same amount of seawater in its cooling processes, and heats it up by a similar amount to what we are going to cool it down,” Mr Mackie said.
He said the refinery currently discharged water back into the bay at between 5-10 degrees warmer than the ambient temperature, and it is expected that might change to be closer to 1-5 degrees warmer.
“We have been discharging warmer seawater into the bay for 60 years, and we are going to have to assess what that change is going to do,” Mr Mackie said.
“And that’s a key part of the project at the moment.”
If it goes ahead, construction of various elements of the project, including the pipeline and jetty extension, are expected to start in late 2022, creating more than 150 jobs. More than 50 jobs are likely to be created in the ongoing operation of the terminal.
Learn more about Viva Energy’s Gas Terminal Project.