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Community, comedy & carbon-free fuel: an interview with Ben Wilson

Ben Wilson, CEO of AGIG

As Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Gas Infrastructure Group, Ben Wilson’s passion for natural gas and environmental sustainability isn’t unexpected. Though an interesting and important sector, it doesn’t provide a lot of scope for levity. Ben values the arts and loves to be entertained, something he indulges through theatre-going. We spoke to Ben about the importance of partnerships, carbon-free fuel and having a good laugh.

At first glance there may not be a great deal of alignment between a natural gas distributor and the state’s leading professional theatre company. But as they say opposites attract and that’s been the case with AGN and State Theatre Company South Australia, who’ve enjoyed a long-standing partnership over several years. It’s a relationship based on a mutual love of South Australia and the fact each organisation is a leader in its field.

“I think State Theatre adds to the quality of life in Adelaide. It’s one of the things that makes Adelaide what it is, the great place it is to live,” says Ben Wilson, Chief Executive of Australian Gas Infrastructure Group (AGIG).

While AGN has strong South Australian roots dating to the 1860s, through AGIG the organisation’s reach has expanded. In recent years, AGIG has grown to the point it now distributes natural gas to every Australian mainland state and territory. During this transition process, the company has maintained a strong vision and set of values, both with an emphasis on its social and environmental impact.

“We recognise we have an important role in the community as many Australians are connected to our networks. We don’t run a chain of coffee shops; we run critical national infrastructure. It has a huge impact on people,” Ben explains

“In every part of our operations, it’s important that we remember to do the right thing. Being responsible members of the community and giving something back is doing the right thing.”

In its efforts to be socially responsible, AGIG and its networks, including AGN in South Australia, partner with a number of local and national organisations. In 2021, their major national partnerships are with Foodbank Australia, Angel Flight, Landcare Australia and the Clontarf Foundation.

These partnerships, along with those of other state and national organisations, address a wide range of community needs and interests. AGN’s support of State Theatre Company South Australia falls under this category.

“The arts is an important sector that we’re keen to support, particularly in the current time with COVID. As a society, we need a strong arts sector – something that reflects who we are as humans and connects with that inner life we all have. We need companies like State Theatre to do this work,” Ben says.

The area of environmental responsibility is also incredibly important to AGIG and AGN, and ties directly into the work they do with natural gas. One of their most exciting initiatives in the area of sustainability is on decarbonisation.

“People might not know this, but there’s a decarbonisation pathway for natural gas, just like there is for electricity – and Australian Gas Networks and Adelaide are actually leading the world in this area,” Ben explains.

“Our plan over the next few decades is to convert from natural gas to green hydrogen. That is a completely, 100% carbon-free gas, made from water and renewable electricity, which can be used in exactly the same way as natural gas.”

AGN runs Hydrogen Park South Australia in Tonsley, which is working on the green hydrogen initiative. The plan is to blend green hydrogen into over 700 homes in the Tonsley area in late 2020.

“Our vision over the next 20 years or so is to convert our networks to carbon-free gas so by 2050 we will be zero carbon. That’s a world-leading project that is happening here in South Australia.”

But when he’s not busily working on ground-breaking new projects, Ben likes to enjoy a little bit of comedy – as he shared when asked about his favourite experiences with State Theatre Company South Australia.

“I like a laugh. I think life is a pretty serious business; sometimes it’s nice to just go and be entertained. When State Theatre Company first staged The 39 Steps, that was fantastic – it was laugh-out loud funny. By the end, my face was hurting from laughing so much,” Ben recalls.

“The quality of the output from State Theatre punches above its weight, and we’re proud to be associated with and to support the Company.”

Come along to Patrick Hamilton’s Gaslight (4-19 Sept) at Her Majesty’s Theatre to be entertained, thrilled and distracted from the serious stuff of everyday life. Tickets are still available.

To find out more about Australian Gas Networks, please visit their website.