Like many small business owners, power prices are front of mind for Tony Beatrice.
- Businesses and consumers are still grappling with high power bills in SA, with the government saying the state is not immune to global price hikes
- Commercial partners are announced for a major Whyalla hydrogen project, due to come online in early 2026
- The government said the project would provide thousands of jobs for South Australians, enhance grid security, and unlock business opportunities
He runs a café in the Adelaide beachside suburb of Glenelg and said the cost to keep the fridges, freezers and coffee machines running was concerning, particularly leading into the busy summer period.
“We’ve found our average spend per month prior to the [previous] increases was around $2,700 and at the moment we’re paying over $4,000,” he said.
“So we’re a bit concerned that if the electricity goes up even more it’s going to affect our bottom line.”
Electricity bills are also putting strain on many South Australian households, following a significant hike in July, and amid other soaring cost-of-living pressures.
Single mum Marija Vukoje said she was already “struggling” with power prices “as it is”.
“Every time I go to the shops I feel like it’s more and more, so you’re really having to choose, ‘What do I buy this week, what do I not buy this week?’, which I never thought I’d have to think about that, to be honest,” she said.
The South Australian government said the benefits of its hydrogen plant — set to open in 2026 — would flow through to households.
“We know that one of the reasons why power prices have gone up around the country and around the world are because coal prices and gas prices have gone through the roof,” Premier Peter Malinauskas said.
“What this will be doing is taking our abundant supply of renewables and transforming it into hydrogen, which can then be stored, and used back in the electricity market for purposes that are in the interests of consumers.”
Around $600 million will be spent on the facility, which will use renewable energy to both produce hydrogen and store electricity for the grid.
The state government has selected three private companies, ATCO Australia, BOC and EPIC Energy, to operate the hydrogen electrolyser and power plant.
The government said the project would provide thousands of jobs for South Australians, enhance grid security, unlock business opportunities and support the state’s clean energy transition.
“This will be a people-owned piece of progressive power generation, fuelled by renewables in our state, providing more supply into the electricity market, which is only going to deliver positive impacts for price in South Australia for industrial users and household consumers alike,” Mr Malinauskas said.
Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis said South Australia “can’t be immune” to “dramatic increases in prices globally”.
“But it’s projects like this that ultimately will help fill that gap, and help drop power prices,” he said.
But opposition energy spokesperson Stephen Patterson was skeptical the hydrogen plant would lower electricity bills.
He said the government’s focus should be on “making sure electricity is affordable and reliable”.
“What we need in this electricity transition, which is at scale, is just an all-of-the-above approach,” he said.
“We shouldn’t be going … down one solution, we need to look at all technologies to make sure that addresses all the problems.”
The opposition has previously raised concerns the plan will not lower power prices, citing Office of Hydrogen Power SA’s chief executive Sam Crafter’s comments in a May budget and finance committee hearing.
Mr Crafter said the hydrogen plan was specifically targeting industrial users and lowering their energy prices.
“When you bring in more dispatchable generation, though, there is an impact on the whole market, and that’s where we would see an impact across the market for customers as well,” he said.
“But the driver, if you like … is to be able to grow the hydrogen opportunity in industry, both through hydrogen supply and through cheaper electricity for large industrial users in South Australia.”
Ms Vukoje said while she was unfamiliar with the government’s hydrogen power plans, she welcomed moves towards renewables — as long as it does not cost consumers more.
“Anything that’s more renewable and helps the climate and the environment is great but of course if it doesn’t come with an extra cost to the average person,” she said.