A community group pushing to electrify the entire postcode of 2515 has announced its conditional support for offshore wind in the Illawarra, provided any final project meets strict environmental standards and provides community benefits.
Electrify 2515 is galvanising community and government support for the northern suburbs of the Illawarra to become the nation's first all electric community.
Established by Austinmer engineer and Biden Administration energy advisor Saul Griffith, the group has been a driving force in the roll out of solar panels, electric vehicles and heat pumps in the suburb.
The group says offshore wind would be the next step, providing reliable renewable power to electrify the Illawarra's economic base and enable the region and country to build a zero-carbon energy system.
Convener Kristen McDonald said while offshore wind was slightly beyond the group's initial mandate, the community-led organisation was motivated to support the technology as the next step beyond household solar.
"[Rooftop solar] is not going to produce all the electricity that is required for an electric future, we still need other sources of clean, renewable power, and offshore wind provides one potential source of that power," she said.
The ability of offshore wind to produce electricity during the evening, when solar panels were not generating energy, meant that offshore wind would complement other renewable electricity technologies.
Ms McDonald acknowledged there was a diversity of views on the merits of offshore wind in the Illawarra, and in the particular suburbs covered by the initiative, and said the nuanced position adopted by the group was the result of robust internal discussions.
"There was a lot of research and talk before we actually came out with a position," she said.
Shared online, the group's statement notes that any future offshore wind farm needed to meet rigorous environmental standards, including minimising impacts to whales and other marine life, while also ensuring community benefit.
"There are potentially lots of ways that we can actually design big renewable energy projects that have significant and genuine benefits to local communities and we'd love to see that explored more," Ms McDonald said.
The group has nominated a contribution of 1c per kilowatt hour of power generated given back to the community, local job guarantees or local content requirements for steel and concrete as ways the community could benefit from the wind turbine rollout.
Fellow group member Francis Vierboom said the technology, if implemented correctly, could secure Illawarra residents' livelihoods as carbon-based industries had for decades.
"Wollongong really has a choice of becoming maybe a bit of a tourist destination, but not really doing stuff, or turning to new energy sources that mean we'll have exciting opportunities for growth and interesting jobs for our kids that won't just be stuck in gig economy jobs," he said.
Meanwhile, a group of researchers from the University of Wollongong also offered their in-principle support for the development of offshore wind off the coast of the Illawarra, noting that any development needed to meet the highest environmental, social and cultural standards.
The researchers set out priority areas, including workforce development, improved oversight and planning, First Nations engagement, independent research and maximising community benefits.
"We understand that there is a lot of uncertainty around the recent proposal to declare the Illawarra as an Offshore Electricity Zone and the benefits and impacts this will have on a local, regional, and national level," UOW energy expert Ty Christopher said.
"We believe this is an opportunity to come together as a community and work on solutions to support the transition to clean energy production."
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