THE fishing lobby still needs to be placated.
And there may be some lingering conjecture about whether or not the world’s biggest offshore wind farm will be visible from the eastern shores of Wilsons Promontory.
But it seems that everyone else is clamouring to get on board the $8 billion, 250 turbine, 2000 MW, offshore wind farm planned for Commonwealth waters, 13km south of Snake Island near Welshpool.
At the official launch of the feasibility study by Offshore Energy Managing Director Andy Evans last Friday, at the New Energy Technology Roundtable at Federation University, State Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio was effusive in her support.
“We can’t afford for a project like this to get caught up in any political problems. We want this project to go ahead and the jobs associated with it.”
The Energy Minister also felt confident that a facility supplying approximately 18% of Victoria’s power would help drive down prices.
It’s a gift for the Andrews Government following the closure of Hazelwood, the loss of jobs in the Valley and pressure on power prices.
But the Federal Government also looks keen.
Federal Infrastructure and Transport Minister Darren Chester, who is also the Member for Gippsland, has given early support, pending an environmental study.
“We have great natural resources in Gippsland — wind off the coast, coal timber. If there are ways to capture that and turn it into energy that powers the manufacturing sector, I am all for that,” he said.
“But it’s important the proponents work with the local community.”
And that’s exactly what Mr Evans stressed when speaking to the Sentinel-Times after the launch last Friday.
“We always intended for it to be a local announcement until the Herald-Sun got a hold of it yesterday,” Mr Evans said.
“But we’ve got a lot more information and activity scheduled for your area down there and we’ll be getting it out as soon as we can.”
He said the site chosen as the exploration area was unique in Australia not only because it was consistently very windy off the Gippsland coast but also because the islands off Corner Inlet provided “blockage”, because of access to Gippsland’s technical workforce, because depths were between 20 metres and 30 metres (not more than 40 metres, and a range of other factors that would be tested and quantified by the study.
He said the company intended to work closely with the local community and consult widely.
He scotched suggestions that there would be a permanent exclusion zone around the turbines, which he said would be located between 10km and 25km offshore and spaced 1km apart.
In fact, he said the development of 250 turbines would create artificial reefs likely to boost fish numbers. The final development area was also likely to be a small fraction of the 574 square kilometre investigation area.
Support has also come from South Gippsland Shire Council Mayor Cr Ray Argento.
“Council is excited to find out more about the proposal, which is still in the initial stages of investigation. We expect to be briefed by the developer, Offshore Energy, in the coming weeks and will be particularly keen to hear how the project will impact on our area and what the economic benefits may be for the South Gippsland community. We will watch with interest as Offshore Energy works through a rigorous review process.”
Member for Eastern Victoria, Harriet Shing agreed it was an “incredibly exciting proposal that has the potential to be a real game-changer in Gippsland, not only in terms of power generation, but also for local jobs and economic growth”.
Member for Gippsland South, Danny O’Brien is interested in local jobs:
“The Star of the South offshore windfarm proposal announced last Friday is a very interesting concept that could be good for Gippsland jobs and economic activity and that’s something we certainly need. If it proceeds, there could be great benefits for jobs in South Gippsland.
“I have been briefed on the project but it’s very early days and there are still a lot of questions to be answered and processes to go through, including environmental assessments and the like.
“Locating windfarms offshore does get around concerns of landholders onshore but also throws up potential other problems. I look forward to the feasibility process proceeding and local communities and industry groups having the opportunity to learn more about it and to have input.”
Unlike the Basslink project, which incidentally cuts across the exploration area and provides potential easement opportunities for Star of the South, it is not being opposed by the environment lobby.
Environment Victoria CEO Mark Wakeham greeted the project as “Australia’s first serious proposal for an off-shore wind farm”.
“It’s always been thought that Australia’s continental shelf was too steep for the economics of off-shore wind farms to stack up here. The fact that a company is now investing in trials and studies for a 2000 MW wind farm shows how much the economics has changed with cheaper, larger wind turbines making wind power a more affordable energy source than new gas or coal-burning power stations.
“This is an exciting proposal, though one that will need to demonstrate it does not impact on marine life and brings benefits to the region. If it goes ahead at full scale, it will generate an equivalent amount of energy to Loy Yang B power station,” he said.
Friends of the Earth spokesman, Pat Simons, described it as an “exciting project” at the launch.
Facts about the Star of the South Energy Project:
• Will need a three-year feasibility,
• Require a total investment of approximately $8 billion,
• Generate approximately 12,000 direct and indirect jobs during the construction phase and 300 ongoing jobs,
• Include up to 250 turbines within a 574 square kilometre area in Commonwealth waters off the coast of Gippsland,
• Have a total capacity of at least 2000MW;
• Connect to existing infrastructure in the Latrobe Valley via undersea and underground transmission cables;
• Deliver approximately 8000GWh of electricity per year, or approximately 18% of Victoria’s power usage or enough to power 1.2 million homes; and
• Reduce carbon emissions by about 10.5 million tonnes per year.
Mr Evans played a leading role in the development of Victoria’s largest onshore wind farm, a 128 turbine facility at Waubra near Ballarat.