THE earliest that construction could start on one of the world’s biggest offshore wind farms, 25km off the coast near Port Welshpool, is 2021. The latest is 2023.
That’s little more than three and a half years away and the impact of having 2000 people working directly on the project, plus an estimated 12,000 indirectly, will be profound.
“It’s an $8 billion project and they don’t come around every day,” said managing director of Offshore Energy, Andy Evans, who with his colleague, the Chairman of Offshore Energy, Terry Kallis, attended a briefing session of the South Gippsland Shire Council last Wednesday.
“We always intended to come down and meet the council as soon as possible but I’ve been in Europe for the past five weeks, since the announcement. We intend to keep all stakeholders well informed all the way along,” he said.
That includes the local community and particularly the fishing community.
But, short of holding a public information session in the local area sometime in the next few months, at which a really cool video will be screened showing how easy it is to erect a 230 metre-high turbine on the edge of Bass Strait, you’ll not see a lot of Offshore Energy people until the three-five year feasibility study and approvals process is completed.
Pointing to a comprehensive presentation on Power Point, Mr Evans said the company would conduct offshore wind measuring over the next three to five years, and also locate some wind equipment onshore but that would be the extent of the impact until the project was given the go-ahead by the State and Federal government both of which, he said, had already been very encouraging.
Especially the State Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio who has been the project’s biggest support to date.
The extent of the South Gippsland Shire Council’s involvement in the project, he said, was the likely use of Port Anthony as the staging point for servicing the construction phase of the project.
The massive mono-pods, over which the 120 metre high turbine towers and 164 metre wide turbine blades will be placed will all come in by sea and be lifted into place by a purpose-built ship crane which is already doing the same work easily, quickly and safely in Europe.
That’s one of the benefits of constructing offshore. You can erect much bigger capacity turbines because they don’t have to come by road.
Once complete, the 250 turbines will generate enough power for 1.2 million households and it is expected to be a highly efficient facility benefitting from an extremely consistent wind resource, possibly the best in Australia.
The turbines, which he said in answer to a question from Cr Lorraine Brunt, would be 1km apart and there would be no restrictions on fishing and boating in the area between.
The bases of the turbines, which would be pile-driven into the sea, will create artificial reefs, likely to encourage marine life, not damage it.
The structure will not be visible from the nearest points along the coast, screened by the Nooramunga islands, and at 37km away from the eastern side of the Prom, would not be a defining feature.
Located in an area where it can take advantage of the Basslink easement, 70km of cables, all underground or under sea, will run back to a junction point at the old Hazelwood power station where renewably generated energy would be able to enter the grid with the minimum of fuss.
Mr Evans said the area already had the construction and energy industry skills associated with both the power industries in the Latrobe Valley and offshore oil and gas and he expected there to be work for locals and local firms in Gippsland.
He said the project had already put South Gippsland firmly on the map with the Commonwealth Government as an ideal place to locate a renewable energy industry and it was likely the area would gain some notoriety out of hosting one of the world’s biggest offshore wind farms.
Both Mr Evans and Mr Kallis said the firm had the capacity to complete the project, having been involved with the development of the 128 turbine wind farm at Waubra and another in development in South Australia.
They said they had already fielded a lot of funding interest from financiers in Europe.
The timeline to approval and construction will commence in the next few weeks, when as expected, the Commonwealth Government gives the firm a licence to prepare an application for the project.
Activity on the necessary studies would commence in earnest next year, he said.
It was also likely that the approvals process would include a public planning panel assessment at which members of the community could attend to gain some insights into the environmental issues associated with the project.
Dubbed the Star of the South Energy Project, the next few weeks will be crucial in setting it off on its way to construction.