The Proposal

On 5 August 2022, the Federal Minister for Climate Change and Energy (Minister), Chris Bowen, declared six proposed areas in Australian Commonwealth waters off Gippsland in Victoria for offshore renewable energy projects (Proposal), as shown in the below map. This declaration is the first made under the Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Act 2021 (OEI Act) and provides some certainty to those considering offshore renewable energy infrastructure development in this area.

The ‘Area under Consideration’ is broken into six smaller areas as high vessel traffic areas, restricted defence areas and the Beagle Marine Park have been excluded. The ‘Area to be Avoided’ indicates a high concentration of existing offshore oil and gas titles.

The Proposal follows the recent commencement of the OEI Act on 2 June 2022. As foreshadowed in our earlier Insight, the OEI Act establishes a framework for licensing to enable the construction, operation and decommissioning of offshore renewable energy and offshore electricity infrastructure projects in Commonwealth waters. Such projects include offshore wind and solar farms, wave energy plants and undersea interconnectors.

Consultation

The Minster has released a suite of consultation documents in respect of the Proposal and is now seeking feedback on the Proposal until 7 October 2022. Anyone is able to provide feedback and the Minister will consider all feedback in determining whether the proposed area is suitable for offshore renewable energy development. Issues that the Minister has identified to provide feedback on include, but are not limited to:

  • how offshore renewable energy projects could share the area with other users and interests;
  • the visibility of wind turbines and management of the visual impact; and
  • understanding existing users and interests in and near the Area under Consideration.

The nature and volume of submissions will be interesting to observe, and will set the tone for future consultation processes. In particular, given that turbines can be seen from over 50 kilometres away in certain weather conditions, concerns relating to visual impact may be significant.

The Minister’s invitation to provide feedback is the first opportunity to respond to the Proposal, noting that:

  • prior to the construction of any infrastructure, developers must develop a management plan and consult with the local community and show how they will share the area with other users;
  • prior to deciding whether to grant a commercial licence, the Minister may require the developer to conduct further consultation; and
  • developers will need to have a plan for gathering and responding to ongoing feedback from stakeholders throughout the life of the project.

Following a stakeholder consultation process, the Government is now developing regulations that will set out the details and requirements of management plans, including the requirement to consult with the community.

This Proposal comes off the back of the Government’s October 2021 announcement to reach Australia’s net zero target by 2050, noting that the consultation documents refer to offshore renewable energy projects off Gippsland as a means of achieving this target.

If the Minister declares the area as suitable for offshore renewable energy development, and feasibility licences are granted for up to 7 years, developers will be allowed to investigate an area and begin planning their project. If their commercial licence is granted, which is for a period of 40 years, the construction of the wind farm can commence.

Offshore renewable energy projects

Star of the South developers welcomed the Government’s Proposal, highlighting offshore wind as an essential technology to secure Australia’s clean energy future. Star of the South is Australia’s most progressed wind farm proposal and, if approved, is to be located off the south coast of Gippsland, falling within the declared area. If developed to its full potential, the Star of the South project will generate up to 2.2 GW. The project is in the early feasibility phase with site investigations and environmental studies underway having, recently completed geotechnical surveys along its proposed 75 kilometre transmission route and more than two years of marine surveys in Bass Strait. Developers of the project plan to build up to 200 wind turbines, to be located 7 to 25 kilometres off the coast.

Following the Proposal, developers of other offshore wind projects proposed to be located off Gippsland, including Corio Generation’s Great Southern Offshore Wind Energy Project and Energy Estate and BlueFloat Energy’s joint Greater Gippsland Offshore Wind Project, are now likely optimistic about the prospects of their projects proceeding.

Next areas for consultation

The Minister has announced that the next areas to be considered for the development of offshore renewable energy infrastructure will include the Pacific Ocean regions off the Hunter and Illawarra regions in New South Wales, the Southern Ocean region off Portland in Victoria, the Bass Strait region off northern Tasmania, and the Indian Ocean region off Perth/Bunbury in Western Australia.