A controversial Australian gas-fired power plant that received political and financial support from the incoming government on the condition that it uses at least 15% hydrogen in its turbines will go ahead without burning any hydrogen at all — just weeks after the project developer’s CEO left abruptly.

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Government-owned energy company Snowy Hydro is reportedly unable to source any hydrogen for the 750MW Hunter “peaker” gas power plant in Kurri Kurri, New South Wales, which is due to go live next year.

Snowy Hydro has reportedly told the government that it will proceed with the project on 100% natural gas. This is despite the scheme receiving around A$600m ($387m) in federal funding, signed off by the government of prime minister Anthony Albanese, which offered political support in return for the hydrogen element.

The plant is currently being built in the industrial town of Kurri Kurri, New South Wales.

Snowy Hydro’s chairman, David Knox, told the Australian Financial Review today (Monday) that the plant would meet the target as soon as a hydrogen supply was available.

“Subsequent to that as the hydrogen supply becomes available we can go to 15% hydrogen,” he said, adding that it could even be exceeded if more supply was available.

Originally planned as part of the previous administration’s “gas-led recovery” plan to reboot the Australian economy after the Covid-19 slowdown, the Hunter project was turned into a political football ahead of Australia’s federal elections this year.

The Hunter plant was widely criticised in Australia, with experts complaining that more economical and greener alternatives were possible, and the Australian Energy Market Operator stating that wind and solar — backed by batteries and pumped hydro — would suffice to keep the lights on.

The 750MW peaking power plant is intended to go some of the way to making up for the 2GW of baseload generating capacity the area will lose when the nearby Liddell coal-fired power station closes in 2023. As a fast-response plant with an open cycle gas turbine, it is designed to be used to cover short peaks in demand.

Australia’s then-opposition party Labor initially opposed the project, but earlier this year Albanese decided to support it if it could run 30% on hydrogen from the start, and 100% on hydrogen by 2030. The party said an additional A$700m could be provided for the full conversion from gas to hydrogen. The 30% hydrogen requirement was later adjusted to 15%.

The news comes just weeks after the abrupt resignation of Snowy Hydro chief executive Paul Broad. Snowy Hydro’s difficulties in fulfilling the hydrogen requirement is believed to be part of the reason he left the company. Snowy Hydro’s chairman David Know on Monday said communication issues were behind the exit, as “the tone of the conversations from Snowy to the ministers was not as open and straightforward as it should have been”.

But Hunter is not the only power project exploring hydrogen in New South Wales. Billionaire green hydrogen magnate Andrew Forrest is also developing a 660MW plant at Port Kembla in the state’s southern coastline. Squadron Energy, which is backed by Forrest, has received A$30m in federal funding for the project.