Regional vision in focus

Alicia PereraPilbara News
OCCI acting president Jason Varcoe, Port Hedland CCI president Jim Henneberry, NCCI president Barbara O'Driscoll, RCCIWA chief executive Kitty Prodonovich, KDCCI chief executive John Lally and president Kylah Morrison at the Pilbara Economic Development Conference.
Camera IconOCCI acting president Jason Varcoe, Port Hedland CCI president Jim Henneberry, NCCI president Barbara O'Driscoll, RCCIWA chief executive Kitty Prodonovich, KDCCI chief executive John Lally and president Kylah Morrison at the Pilbara Economic Development Conference. Credit: Pilbara News, Alicia Perera

A wealth of opportunities in everything from renewable energy to agriculture and art were in the spotlight at the 2017 Pilbara Economic Development Conference last Tuesday.

Dubbed the New Pilbara 2.0, the day-long event was the second forum organised by the Pilbara regional chambers of commerce to showcase emerging investment opportunities in the region after a successful inaugural event last November.

More than 400 people attended the event, an increase of about 100 on last year, with an estimated two-thirds from outside the Pilbara region.

An emphasis was the need to form partnerships and take a collaborative approach to come up with new solutions to diversifying the Pilbara economy after the mining downturn, and a push towards encouraging local work as much as possible.

One of the major investment opportunities in the spotlight was renewable energy, with a series of speakers presenting on how the Pilbara’s abundance of sunlight and other natural features presented could be harnessed as new energy sources to power the State, country and other nations.

Australian National University’s Dr Matthew Stocks presented on an ambitious long-term vision to establish a solar, wind and hydropower network in the Pilbara which could, with links to other systems, power the nation or parts of Asia.

Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan officially launched a pre-feasibility study into exporting solar power to Asia while ECOMAG WA general manager Shaun Triner presented the company’s plans to convert mining by-products into high-grade magnesium oxide to service the growing battery market.

Horizon Power’s Evette Smeathers and Yara Pilbara’s Chris Rijksen spoke about several new projects under way in the area from their companies.

Pilbara Regional Council chief executive Tony Friday said he was “fascinated” at the size of the region’s potential for renewable energy.

“All of the right ingredients are there, in an era of demand that’s going to continue to rise as other nations around the Indian Ocean or in that vicinity start to mature and have increasing demands for energy as well,” he said.

“Exporting power across a pipe to Indonesia is potentially just the start of bigger things.”

In the tourism, culture and art space, leveraging the Pilbara’s naturally beautiful national parks and rock art and enriching it through indigenous cultural insights were common themes.

Agriculture and aquaculture project updates on the recommencement of livestock exports from Port Hedland and an upcoming edible oyster farming trial also drew audience interest.

In the business space, encouraging “agility” and collaborative relationships as well as more support for small business development were discussed by regional chamber of commerce representatives, while Pilbara Aboriginal Corporations and Enterprises chairman Tony McRae said there was a local surge in indigenous-led business underway.

Though the conference focused on the Pilbara economy’s diversification beyond the resources industry, mining remains the backbone of the region and several company representatives presented on innovations in the sector.

Woodside Energy executive vice-president and chief operations officer Michael Utsler said the company was looking into using LNG as a transport fuel for all vessels as part of its coastal operations in the near future after equipping its first ship with the technology earlier this year.

Artemis Resources executive director Edward Mead spoke about exciting potential opportunities for mining gold and cobalt in the region.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails