Business reporter Connor Pearce travelled to Denmark to find out what a future with wind farms looks like for the Illawarra. The final piece in his series brings together the questions that remain after a week in the land of windmills.
Prior to boarding QR6126 to Copenhagen, I had a notepad full of questions to ask the Danes - some from readers, others my own.
Looking over the reams of notes I took over five days, more than a dozen meetings and four site visits, most of the answers were there, but sitting on QR908 to Sydney, I found that rather than just coming home with answers, I was bringing back bigger questions than I had left with.
With ten days until the first community feedback sessions on the draft offshore wind area, now is not a bad time to start asking these questions.
As we have seen from the process in Newcastle, the difference between the draft zone and the final zone can be significant, but more than drawing shapes on a map, with the industry still in its infancy in Australia, there is a window of opportunity for the community to shape what a future offshore wind sector will look like in Australia.
Read more: Beyond the Horizon
After ten years of inaction at a federal level, and sometimes outright denial, it is undoubtedly a race to introduce the amount of renewables not only needed for Australia to meet its 2030 targets, but to decarbonise some of the hard-to-abate sectors such as steel and cement if Australia is to reach is 2050 net zero target.
This is where offshore wind comes in, with the potential to produce large quantities of renewable energy more consistently than onshore wind or solar. These turbines will provide the power to run the electrolysers producing green hydrogen, the electric arc furnaces producing green steel as well as topping up the grid as household electricity consumption skyrockets due to heat pumps and electric vehicles become commonplace.
Despite the urgency, we are still only at the first step in the pathway to offshore wind, and involving the community early, rather than late, will be one way where the timeline can be accelerated. The building of transmission infrastructure is a case in point where communities have been left behind and the roll out is well behind schedule.
For decades, energy infrastructure has been something that has been done to communities, with tick a box consultation or eminent domain overriding the concerns of the affected residents.
Offshore wind provides an opportunity for energy to be something that is done with or even by the community, whether through a genuine co-design process, community ownership or localised energy price relief or local content targets that see the Illawarra transform into a green industrial powerhouse - a promise that has languished for over a decade.
Achieving this will take maturity from all sides. On the part of the community, it will be a willingness to accept uncertainty as part of an iterative design process, on the part of industry it will require being flexible to meet local conditions, rather than importing solutions and expecting them to fit, and from government an approach to risk and openness that treats the community as a valuable partner, not a stakeholder to be consulted on the way through with a final outcome already in mind.
This might seem like a big ask, but as we prepare for what could be a scorching summer after a record-breaking warm winter, it's clear that the business-as-usual approach to the climate crisis is not going to solve the problems ahead.
The Mercury travelled with the assistance of the Danish Embassy, Canberra.
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