* Group may charter LNG import vessel for $30-$35 mln a year
* Targeting sales to major industrial gas users
* Aims for investment decision this year, start-up in 2020 (Adds Marubeni, JERA comment)
By Sonali Paul
MELBOURNE, Feb 26 (Reuters) - A consortium including Japan's JERA and Marubeni Corp is aiming to ship liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Australia's east coast, looking to supply industrial gas users and possibly a new power plant, the group said on Monday.
This is the second proposed LNG import terminal for Australia, the world's no.2 LNG exporter, as the country grapples with a supply gap at a time when its gas producers have locked in long-term contracts to sell LNG to Japan, China and South Korea.
A final investment decision is expected this year on the project to import up to around 2 million tonnes a year of LNG starting in 2020, James Baulderstone, who is leading the Australian Industrial Energy group, told Reuters.
"This market is in quite desperate need for more gas to come in," said Baulderstone, a former Santos Ltd executive, pointing to soaring energy prices.
The LNG receiving terminal would be able to meet up to three-quarters of the gas needs of Australia's most populous state, New South Wales, where manufacturers like BlueScope Steel and Orica have major operations.
Baulderstone said the consortium would probably charter an existing LNG import vessel, at an estimated cost of around $30 million to $35 million a year, rather than building a new floating storage and regasification unit (FSRU).
That is a fraction of the billions of dollars that would be needed to develop a new gas field and pipelines to supply the equivalent volume of gas, 100 petajoules a year.
"The efficiency of capital is extraordinary because you don't have to spend that much capital to effectively charter a boat and connect it to the existing east coast grid," he said.
The proposed new LNG import terminal would be located at either Port Botany, Port Kembla and Newcastle, all of which are close to existing gas pipelines, helping to keep down costs.
Australian Industrial Energy's investors, as first reported by the Australian Financial Review, are mining billionaire Andrew Forrest's Squadron Energy, Marubeni and JERA, the world's biggest LNG buyer, which is a joint venture of Tokyo Electric Power Co and Chubu Electric Power Co.
"Marubeni and JERA believe that this FSRU-based project can be completed and commence the supply of LNG to New South Wales in a timely manner," the Japanese companies said in a statement.
They said they would work with Squadron on the feasibility study, including marketing to potential customers and tapping JERA's global network to line up LNG supply.
Baulderstone and the companies declined to disclose their respective stakes in the consortium.
General Electric Co is providing technical support and design services for development and construction of a gas-fired power plant.
Australia's top power generator, AGL Energy, is also considering building an LNG import terminal off neighbouring state of Victoria, to bring in up to 2.5 million tonnes a year, but that would mostly meet its own needs, supplying its gas-fired power stations and households.
While LNG is cheap at the moment, prices are expected to rise in the early 2020s, which could make it difficult to justify imports to Australia, said Saul Kavonic, an analyst at consultants Wood Mackenzie.
"The economic case for Australian LNG imports remains marginal at best, and is not guaranteed to happen," he said.
Reporting by Sonali Paul; additional reporting by Osamu Tsukimori and Yuka Obayashi in TOKYO and Jessica Jaganathan in SINGAPORE; editing by Richard Pullin