The consultation period on a proposed offshore wind zone off the coast of the Illawarra is drawing to a close. After two months, residents, business and community organisations have had the chance to have their say on the zone that covers 1461 square kilometres, 10 to 30km off the coast from Wombarra to Gerringong.
The consultation period has drawn out passionate support and opposition to the proposal in the Illawarra, with heated debates online and rally that drew 1000 opponents to Flagstaff Hill.
Throughout, the Illawarra Mercury has sought to provide constructive, evidence based information on the zone, as well as sharing the views of the community on the proposal.
Below, we have collected scores of your questions, gathered from Facebook, comments on our articles and via email. While not all answers are definitive, we hope it enables our readers to make an informed submission - if they wish - and a way through claims and counterclaims they may find online.
How effective are offshore wind turbines?
Why on the sea and not on land?
Wind turbines located at sea have a higher capacity factor than those on land. This means that wind turbines at sea produce their maximum electricity output between 45 and 55 per cent of the time, onshore wind turbines produce their maximum output only 30-35 per cent of the time.
For comparison, Australia's current fleet of ageing coal-fired power plants have a capacity factor of 65 per cent, and this is reducing as maintenance issues force unplanned shutdowns. Solar has a capacity factor of between 10 and 25 per cent, mainly due to the sun only shining for half the day.
Why not opposite the Royal National Park?
The chosen location of the Illawarra offshore wind farm places it close to a large, working port in Port Kembla where the turbines from where the turbines can be assembled and serviced. The location also has easier access to high voltage power networks located at the Dapto substation at Yallah.
Why not wait?
Australia and the world have a mammoth task to decarbonise not only our existing electricity grid, but our entire energy system, including transport, manufacturing and agriculture. This will require massive amounts of renewable electricity. The longer we wait the more challenging and expensive this task will be.
In addition, NSW's remaining coal fired power stations will be decommissioned in the 2030s, making alternative sources of electricity needed by then.
How much oil does each turbine contain?
Depending on the model, wind turbines can contain between 75 and 800 litres of oil used as lubricant.
Are wind blades recyclable?
Wind turbine manufacturer Vestas has released a circular solution for wind turbine blades, meaning they do not go to landfill. While this solution is still in the trial phase, wind turbines as a whole are 85 per cent recyclable.
When parts of the turbines reach end of life what are the proposed disposal options?
As part of the licensing process, any prospective developer will have to outline how they will decommission the wind turbines at the end of their life. This can include recycling the steel, copper and aluminium as well as concrete base.
How much carbon will be created to build them - what is the carbon footprint?
Offshore wind turbines have a carbon footprint of between 10 and 20 grams of CO2 equivalent per kilowatt hour of electricity generated over their lifecycle. For comparison, solar panels can have upwards of 50 grams.
How long will it take to pay off each turbine?
A wind turbine will pay off its cost in energy in six months of operation. Based on calculations in the United States, a wind turbine would pay off its financial cost in six years and seven months, with a total life span of 25 years or more.
What is the value of the government subsidies/tax payer dollars in total for this project?
The federal government is not proposing to subsidise the cost of construction or operation.
What is the lifespan, how long before removed from the ocean?
Currently operating wind turbines have an expected lifespan of 25 years, however as the first generation of wind turbines reach the end of their lifespan they are often found to be in good working condition, and have their lifespan extended for five or more years.
Will the windfarm supply energy to households or just for hydrogen plant?
The wind farm will feed in energy to households via the connection to the grid. Some of the electricity may be purchased by industrial users, including for the production of hydrogen.
How often are they serviced?
Offshore wind farms are typically serviced two or three times a year.
At what speed do they need to be turned off?
Depending on the model, wind turbines can be switched off when they reach speeds of 88 to 100km/h.
What happens if one breaks free, a ship runs into them - what is the contingency plan?
Developers will be required to develop contingency plans for these kinds of circumstances. Each turbine has multiple mooring lines to allow for redundancy in the event one fails.
Is there data on a similar sized floating offshore wind farm?
No. The offshore wind farm proposed for the Illawarra would be larger than any that are currently operating.
Who owns the turbines and how are they regulated?
Who owns the companies building them?
The companies that have proposed plans for offshore wind farms in the Illawarra are both locally owned and financed by international renewable energy developers.
Why aren't imposing the precautionary principle rather than building first and monitoring second?
As part of the planning process for offshore wind, developers will have to go through multiple rounds of studies and consultation prior to any approval. These include in-situ studies across multiple years.
Are there conflicts of interest between politicians, governments, employees, tenders and product suppliers?
Members of parliament have to declare their interests that may conflict or may be seen to conflict with their public duty. These can be found here: https://www.aph.gov.au/senators_and_members/members/register.
Why is this project being rushed through?
The approvals process for Illawarra offshore wind farms follows a legislated process set out in the Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Act. The approvals process alone is expected to take up to seven years.
Has the deal been done and contracts awarded?
Why declare a zone before feasibility studies?
Prior to the draft zone being announced for consultation, the Department of Climate Change, Energy the Environment and Water consulted with other government departments and marine users. Declaring a zone determines where feasibility studies can be carried out, giving potential developers a set zone in which to investigate.
Why haven't communities been consulted?
The Illawarra community has two months to submit feedback, and the Department has held drop in sessions for residents to ask questions and find out more about the proposal. Cunningham MP Alison Byrnes has also hosted two public, community forums. Communities will have multiple other opportunities to be consulted as the proposal goes through various other approval stages.
Why does the government allow the developer to submit their own environmental approvals, why not independent?
Australia's environmental approvals process requires proponents or prospective developers to submit environmental approvals and the government acts as a independent decision maker.
What are the alternatives?
Is 'industrialising the coast of Wollongong and Newcastle' the only solution?
Offshore wind is only one of the many renewable energy projects proposed for the Illawarra, however due to the Illawarra's location and existing energy infrastructure, more investment has targeted offshore wind. In the registration of interest for the Illawarra Renewable Energy Zone, a NSW government initiative, $43 billion of interest across 44 projects was registered. These included 10 wind generation projects, with eight offshore, five solar projects, 16 energy storage projects, four pumped hydro projects, four hydrogen production and two hydrogen electricity generation projects.
Are they looking to increase the distance offshore? Why not further out to sea?
Moving the turbines further offshore would create additional costs for developers, as well as move into a Defence test range. The deeper and steep cliff that is beyond the continental shelf also makes the project less viable. The distance of how far offshore the zone will cover will be determined when Mr Bowen declares a final offshore wind zone.
When will we see an accurate visual representation or a visual animation as produced for Gippsland?
The federal Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water has released four visualisations of the proposed wind farm at 10 kilometres and 20 kilometres offshore, produced by infrastructure visualisation specialists Convergen. The Gippsland visual animation was produced by the developer after a feasibility licence had been awarded.
Offshore costs 2-3x onshore, and benefits are outweighed by higher construction and maintenance costs - why not build on land?
Offshore wind has a much higher capacity factor than onshore wind, meaning it can produce more power, at more times of the day than onshore wind.
Are there alternative viable locations with lesser negative impacts?
The Illawarra is one of six priority areas for offshore wind located around Australia. A Blue Economy Cooperative Research Centre report produced in 2021 found that the Illawarra had some of the best wind resources in Australia and was well located close to existing infrastructure, making it an ideal location for offshore wind.