Turbulent Waters Down Under: Australia Rejects First Wind Port for Offshore Farms

Federal Government cites environmental concerns, creating setbacks for Victoria’s offshore wind energy ambitions.

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Australia’s federal government has declined the proposed establishment of the nation’s inaugural wind port, citing “unacceptable impacts” on the environment and wildlife. The decision, made in mid-December and disclosed on January 8, poses a significant challenge to the initial offshore wind farm initiatives in the region. The Port of Hastings Corporation, slated to host the staging and assembly area, along with the Victorian government, has expressed intent to explore alternative options in light of the rejection.

Australia, newly committed to global renewable energy endeavors through offshore wind farms, meticulously established regulatory frameworks before designating the coastal region off Victoria for the inaugural projects in 2022. The chosen area, spanning over 12 miles along the Gippsland region near Golden Beach, aimed to contribute to Victoria’s ambitious targets of achieving 2 GW from offshore wind by 2032 and 9 GW by 2040. However, a critical hurdle arose during the review process, revealing that none of the existing ports in the region were suitable for supporting large-scale offshore wind farm development.

The proposed plans, centered at the state-owned Port of Hastings, involved dredging approximately 227 acres, including a wetlands area, with reclamation of around 70 acres to create an extensive staging and assembly point for the nation’s first two offshore wind farms. The port’s corporation justified the selection, emphasizing its substantial available land close to deep water channels, adequate channel capacity, and proximity to existing port facilities. However, the federal government’s decision was based on environmental concerns, as stated by Tanya Plibersek, Minister for the Environment and Water.

Plibersek noted that the proposed action was likely to cause irreversible damage to the habitat of waterbirds, migratory birds, marine invertebrates, and fish. The destruction or significant modification of wetlands and the disruption of tidal flow due to dredging were specifically cited as reasons for rejecting the proposal. Under Australian law, the decision stands as a final ruling without an avenue for appeal. While legal action could be taken by the state government or port operator, such a course would introduce considerable delays.

The Port of Hastings Corporation has acknowledged the decision and is currently exploring options, while the Victorian government has expressed its commitment to advancing offshore wind energy plans. Potential options include revising the proposal to address concerns and resubmitting it, or exploring alternative locations, albeit requiring a new proposal for review. Media reports suggest that the Star of the South wind farm, likely to be Australia’s first, is evaluating Geelong or Bell Bay in Tasmania as secondary sites for construction and material staging.

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