Cunningham MP Alison Byrnes has said she "strongly supports" a community benefit scheme as part of a proposed offshore wind farm, if one goes ahead.
Ms Byrnes, speaking at a debate on the proposed offshore wind farm zone organised by property industry group the Urban Development Institute of Australia, said a scheme could be similar to the Port Kembla Community Investment Fund that was established by the NSW government with the proceeds of the lease of the port, established in 2016.
"I am strongly of the view that there must be a community energy dividend incorporated into any licensing structure of any proposal," Ms Brynes said.
"Communities like the Illawarra, who may take the load of generating the power for our nation, must receive a benefit for that."
Ms Byrnes said the proposed "community energy dividend" could provide ongoing benefits to the community that would host the offshore wind farm, and funding streams may be divided in a similar manner to the PKCIF with dedicated amounts for community, business and environmental infrastructure.
Such a scheme would be similar to the one proposed by Electrify 2515 and Rewiring Australia founder Saul Griffith.
One of the caveats of Electrify 2515's support of an offshore wind zone was the design of a community benefit scheme that could return funds to the community.
This could take a number of forms, the group hoping to electrify the northern suburbs of the Illawarra suggested, including a contribution of 1c/kWh - up to $150 million - spent on local community infrastructure, such as surf clubs, schools or rebates to households.
The idea of what benefit the community could receive from a proposed offshore wind farm was taken up by other speakers at the event.
Event MC and UDIA Illawarra chapter chair Simon Kersten said a benefit fund could go towards long-hoped for infrastructure for the region, such as a rail connection to south-western Sydney or a fast rail upgrade.
"I think that is something as a community - if this gets up - we should fight very, very hard for," he said.
"I think we got to make $100 million when [the NSW government] sold the port, but hopefully the region can do a hell of a lot better than that, something that will generate serious infrastructure."
Associate professor at the University of Wollongong Michelle Voyer said developers would be competing to demonstrate their social licence credentials via community benefit schemes, and this gave Illawarra residents a chance to think outside the box about what they would like to see on-shore.
"This is an opportunity to be creative as a community about how we would like to shape our future development, if this industry is to proceed," she said.
Other speakers said the greatest benefit to the community - and the environment - would be if the project never went ahead. Spokesperson for the Coalition Against Offshore Wind Farms Michael McKeogh highlighted that floating offshore wind technology has never been rolled out at the scale of what is proposed for the Illawarra.
"We don't know what the change will be, because it's never been done," he said.
"There's a lot of questions to be answered before any area can be gazetted."
The federal government has proposed a zone of 1461 kilometres of ocean between Wombarra and Gerringong as an offshore wind zone. The proposal is currently open for community consultation until November 15.
Mr Keogh highlighted community concerns about the visual impact of the turbines, the impact on whales, reductions in tourism and house prices and changes to the swell and wind patterns downstream of the turbines.
However, with consultation only currently on the zone to be declared, and not a specific offshore wind farm proposal, Dr Voyer highlighted that many of these concerns would be addressed and potential wind farm developers would be required to mitigate at a later stage.
"At the moment, none of us have a complete understanding of what the impact of this wind farm will be - either positive or negative - because we're not actually being consulted about a wind farm or a specific wind proposal at this stage, we're currently being consulted on the establishment of a zone, which will then allow the planning process to begin and for those formal assessments to start," she said.
"This is essentially about determining whether we're comfortable to go to this next step in the planning process, and allow those studies to commence, and then once those studies are done, we're going to be asked again for our opinions on whether we think this proposal should proceed."
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