Energy visionary

This time last year you might not have been able to name the man in the image above, but now the face of GFG chairman Sanjeev Gupta is instantly recognisable to many. The man on a mission to shake up the energy sector in South Australia has now set his eyes on the production of electric vehicles at the disused Holden Plant north of Adelaide.

The environmentally minded billionaire came to our attention early last year when he ploughed $700 million into a deal to buy the former Arrium steelworks in Whyalla. Later in 2017 Gupta took a stake in Adelaide based Zen Energy, forming joint venture SIMEC Zen Energy and announcing grand plans to invest $700 million in solar, battery storage, demand management and pumped hydro: in all 1 GW of additional dispatchable renewable generation assets to help power the steel plant.

Now the Indian-born, Cambridge-educated visionary is in discussions over proposals to transform the disused Holden factory into an EV production hub which would be another first for the state – and the nation – when the ambition materialises.

It’s a move that gets one big tick of approval from the state government, with SA Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis telling media “What Mr Gupta is realising, like the rest of the world, is that electric vehicles are the way of the future [and] we believe that the GFG Alliance’s plans would put South Australia at the forefront of the inevitable transition of the Australian market to electric vehicles”.

The treasurer requested “all due consideration be given to their bid and the potentially significant benefits to the automotive industry and broader community in South Australia”.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young has labeled the prospect of an EV plant an “exciting step forward for South Australians”.

Coming full circle, an EV production plant would be able to tap into steel supplies at nearby Whyalla and source renewable energy from SIMEC Zen Energy.

Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg welcomed Gupta’s proposal but not all his colleagues see EVs in the same light. Following the announcement the coalition’s right factions publicly condemned EVs, claiming their carbon emissions are higher (?) than those of petrol-fuelled vehicles.

Returning to reality: under the leadership of Jay Weatherill South Australia is undergoing a renaissance with its economy now growing at its fastest rate in a decade.

According to the Deloitte Access Economics’ quarterly business outlook, business investment is improving. The report notes “After a dip in 2016, where business investment represented just one tenth of the state’s economy, SA is climbing out of the depths and into the light. At around 12 per cent of the economy, business investment in South Australia is just shy of the Australian average, which has not been the case for some time.”

Small business confidence is at its best since 2013 and the new business survival rate is higher than in any other state.

Utility investment is on the rise with more than $1 billion worth of renewable energy projects underway and another $4 billion in the pipeline.

Elon Musk’s Tesla battery added to the investment pipeline, and other high profile, notable projects include the $650 million Aurora Solar Thermal Energy Project.

Export growth in SA is at its highest over the last four years.

CommSec’s State of the States report likewise showed business spending and investment in SA continued to grow while the jobless rate was below its decade average.

Numbers that bode well for Jay Weatherill when the state goes to the polls on March 17.