From Newcastle to the Bass Strait, and across the country to Bunbury and up towards Geraldton, sections of the Australian coastline are dotted with prospective offshore windfarms — at last count nearly 20.
The proponents are eager to take advantage of the renewable energy generation possibilities of a technology that is well established in other parts of the world but yet to even begin in Australia.
Experts from Europe, the US, and Britain — where in some cases offshore windfarms have operated for 30 years — are behind some of the proposals.
Combined, these projects will require billions of investment dollars to establish but come with the potential of jobs during construction and operation and deliver a positive contribution to Australia’s decarbonisation journey.
The wind energy industry is the fastest growing renewable source in many countries, offering significant short and long-term potential to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.
The International Energy Agency has identified offshore wind energy as one of the “big three” to provide the solution to global warming, along with onshore wind and solar.
Countries such as Denmark and the UK are leading the transition to offshore wind.
In Denmark 43 per cent of electricity comes from wind turbines, and 25 percent in the UK.
The UK aims to increase offshore wind capacity by four-fold to 40 gigawatts (GW) by 2030, enough to power every residence in the country.
WA is uniquely well positioned to harness wind energy, particularly from offshore wind farms, with Perth being ranked the third windiest city in the world.
Five offshore windfarm proposals have been developed for WA: Cliff Head, between Dongara and Leeman; Flotation, south of Rottnest Island; WA Offshore Windfarm Project, north of Bunbury; Bunbury Offshore Windfarm, near Binningup; and Leeuwin Offshore Windfarm, between Mandurah and Bunbury, the most recent entrant.
With the proponents lining up, Federal legislation is trying to catch up.
The Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Act 2021 (OEI Act) and related legislation comes into force from June 2, with the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) established as the regulator for offshore renewables.
In an article in the authority’s latest newsletter, NOPSEMA said the regime provided for regulatory and investment certainty including security of tenure and protections for offshore infrastructure.
NOPSEMA said that as the Offshore Infrastructure Regulator, it would have responsibility for overseeing work health and safety, infrastructure integrity, environmental management, and financial security of offshore infrastructure activities.
Draft regulations covering the licensing scheme, fees and levies, spatial referencing, and treatment of pre-existing infrastructure were released for consultation in March.
Regulations covering management plans, financial security, safety and protection zones, and work health and safety aspects and are expected to be released for consultation later this year.
NOPSEMA said the Global Wind Energy Council estimates that Australia has the potential to generate up to 5,000GW of electricity from offshore wind using a combination of fixed and floating infrastructure.
This estimate represents 100 times the installed capacity of Australia’s two largest electricity networks.
The Star of the South offshore wind farm, off the south coast of Gippsland in Victoria, is considered to be the most advanced of the projects and is likely to be Australia’s first offshore windfarm.
The project aims to generate up to 2.2 GW of new capacity, powering around 1.2 million homes across Victoria,
In WA, Copenhagen Energy is proposing what would be Australia’s largest windfarm and, as it stands today, the biggest in the world in terms of power generation.
The company’s Leeuwin Offshore Windfarm proposal is for up to 200 turbines generating 3GW of electricity, enough to power three million homes, in Commonwealth waters between Mandurah and Bunbury.
The aim is for construction to start in 2026, with first power in 2028
Copenhagen Energy Chief Executive Officer Jasmin Bejdic said the final location, layout and ultimate turbine and platform specifications would be determined as the project progresses, determined by a range of studies and feedback from stakeholders.
He said the development area was chosen because of a range of benefits, including high wind speeds, favourable water depths for bottom fixed-foundation, infrastructure that would allow electricity transmission into the South West Interconnected System, proximity to a skilled workforce and significant demand for green energy.
The company was also encouraged by the commitment to the development of policy and a regulatory framework.
“Over the past few decades, investment in offshore wind technology means it is now much more commercially viable to build offshore windfarms,” Mr Bedjic said.
“The lower costs combined with better, more consistent resources and less potential to be impacted by onshore land use constraints makes it much more attractive to build a windfarm of this size offshore.
“Technological developments are moving quickly in offshore wind such that larger windfarms are already being proposed in other parts of the world.
“Based on previous economic studies by Wind Denmark, we anticipate 14,500 jobs during construction. This includes 5,000 direct jobs and another 9,500 indirect jobs. During operation we expect the project to employ 200 people as well as provide more indirect employment.
“Our project will provide renewable energy for at least 30 years, and possibly up to 50 years. Reports published internationally stress the need to quickly reduce emissions to stop the impacts of climate change and we want to help Australia achieve its targets.”