Landmark federal government legislation that will allow offshore wind farms to be built in Australian waters for the first time – and clear the way for massive renewable export projects like Sun Cable’s in the Northern Territory – has successfully passed through the Senate.
The Offshore Electricity Infrastructure bill was introduced to Parliament by federal energy minister Angus Taylor in September of this year, following years of campaigning by green groups, state governments and developers keen to tap the world class renewable resource identified off Australia’s coastlines.
And while the bill is not perfect – criticisms include inadequate safety provisions, lack of clear process, and vague wording around Native Title – its passage clears the path for the at-least 13 offshore wind projects, according to our live map, that have been waiting for a legal framework to proceed.
Australia currently has around 20GW of offshore wind project proposals in the development pipeline – all at early stage of development – and the Australian Energy Market Operator has identified several offshore wind zones that could accommodate up to 40GW of offshore wind.
Most projects are in their very early stages, with the most advanced being the 2.2GW Star of the South project, although Alinta recently revealed it was looking at an offshore wind project of more than 1GW in scale.
The Star of the South was this week one of three projects planned for off the coast of Victoria to win a funding boost from the state Labor government – a combined total of $40 million to support feasibility studies and pre-construction development, including environmental assessments.
Victoria, whose offshore wind resource is tipped as one of Australia’s best, has been a key voice in calls for the Morrison government to clear the way for the sector, including a direct plea from state energy minister Lily D’Ambrosio last year.
Speaking at a summit co-hosted by the Smart Energy Council and RenewEconomy in May 2020, D’Ambrosio suggested the federal Coalition government put aside any ideological opposition to wind energy and get on with supporting the development of offshore projects.
“[The Star of the South has] had very big difficulties in getting the necessary exploration licences because it’s in Commonwealth waters, and big projects like this will probably typically be in Commonwealth waters,” D’Ambrosio told the Summit.
Green groups have also been campaigning hard for the legislation, with Beyond Zero Emissions among the first to welcome the news of its passage through the Senate on Thursday.
“Offshore wind backers are champing at the bit to get going,” said BZE’s head of policy and research, Tom Quinn.
“Offshore wind projects could support a resurgence in manufacturing in regional Australia, with the supply of high quality, long-duration renewable energy.
“The luck of Australia’s unique geography means there are exceptional offshore wind resources located next door to many of our regional industrial hubs, including the Hunter and Illawarra,” Quinn said.
Friends of the Earth campaign manager, Pat Simons, who has worked with the Maritime Union of Australia to help get the laws up, Tweeted on Thursday that the news was a “game changer.”
“The #StarOfTheSouth could power up to 20% of Victoria, and that’s just one offshore wind farm,” Simons said.
In its own statement welcoming the news, Star of the South said a clear regulatory framework would send a positive signal to the global offshore wind market to attract continued and new investment.
“This Bill is a major milestone in kick-starting a new industry, realising Australia’s offshore wind potential and unlocking jobs and economic benefits for regional Australia,” said Star of the South CEO Casper Frost Thorhauge.
But, as noted above, it’s not yet all smooth sailing for the fledgling Australian industry, with a number of issues flagged for reworking or addressing in the legislation.
“The legislation requires regulation and a clear process and timeline for the Minister to declare an offshore renewable energy infrastructure area,” said Quinn.
Friends of the Earth said the next immediate step for the Morrison government was to begin public consultation on declaring “Offshore Wind Zones.”
“The Morrison government must declare Offshore Wind Zones as soon as possible so that Gippsland communities can benefit from projects proposed for the region,” said Simons in a formal statement from FoE.
And from Star of the South’s Thorhague, a more diplomatic message: “We look forward to ongoing engagement with government on the development of more detailed regulations next year.”
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