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.
As part of meeting the legislated requirements offshore wind developers must ensure they do not disrupt the safety of vessel traffic and port operations. NSW Ports, the lessee of Port Kembla, has strongly supported the offshore wind zone, and has accounted for the requirements of offshore wind in its future planning.
Prior to the announcement of the draft zone, the federal Energy Department has identified matters of ecological significance that could be impacted by offshore wind. During the approvals process, offshore wind developers will have to meet the requirements of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
Unlike exploration for oil and gas, which is attempting to detect what is buried several kilometres beneath the sea bed, offshore wind farms are mapping the surface of the bottom of the ocean, to find appropriate anchor points. These different aims require different processes.
Offshore oil and gas projects use seismic air guns to penetrate much further, while offshore wind projects use much less acoustic energy over shorter periods of time and in a more limited direction.
Offshore wind developers are proposing to conduct sonar mapping of the ocean floor outside of the peak whale migration periods, to avoid disrupting whale migration patterns.
Studies have found that whales tend to migrate within 10 kilometres of the coast, reducing the impact of offshore wind farms which if approved would be located 10 kilometres or more from the coast. The most cited study comes from Queensland, however similar studies have found similar behaviour in NSW waters.
Studies conducted in the United States by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have found no link between whale strandings and offshore wind technology. These studies have covered migrating humpback whales which travel up the east coast of the United States. Currently, the United States has fixed-bottom offshore wind farms off the east coast, which are believed to create more impacts on the marine environment than floating farms.
Additional floating offshore wind turbines are proposed for the US east and west coasts, both of which are home to migrating whale populations.
Most of the offshore wind activity would occur in waters further out than where whales generally migrate. There are proposals that the peak of the works can be conducted outside of the peak migration seasons when whales are in greatest numbers off the Illawarra.
Defence has been consulted on the proposed Illawarra offshore energy zone, and wind turbine developers will have to consult with Defence during the licensing stages.
The peak period of construction of the offshore wind farms will occur prior to Port Kembla's expected designation as NSW's second container port. Shipping lanes will be preserved in the declaration of any final zone.
During the construction phase, the wind farm is expected to create 2500 jobs and 1250 ongoing jobs. There is the potential for further economic benefits depending on local content and community benefit schemes, which would be developed during the licensing process.
There are a variety of views across the Illawarra, with some residents vociferously opposed to the proposal, and others as passionately in support. There are also many organisations and institutions that have given conditional support, provided that the wind farms are developed with an eye to community benefit, protection of the environment and support of local manufacturing, while other organisations, including Kiama Council, have opposed the plans.
The power will be fed into the grid, either at Port Kembla or the Yallah substation near Dapto.
As no offshore wind developer has yet been granted a licence, determining the beneficiaries at this stage is difficult. As part of the licensing process, offshore wind developers may include direct community benefit schemes, similar to the Port Kembla Community Infrastructure Fund.
BlueScope and UOW have had discussions with wind farm developers, as have many other businesses and organisations that have attended briefing sessions. The benefits that the companies receive will depend on how the project developers and any licensing conditions. These benefits could include, in the case of UOW, further research opportunities onshore and offshore, and in the case of BlueScope, contracts to supply floating foundations and wind turbine components.
If the wind farm goes ahead at the currently indicated capacity, it could supply BlueScope's electricity requirements for green steel as well as providing five million MWh for general use in the grid. The benefits for the Illawarra community in having locally produced green steel would ensure that the steelworks continues to employ thousands of locals directly and supports a range of local businesses, as it has done for nearly 100 years.
As more renewable energy enters the Australian grid prices have gone down. Driving high prices of electricity includes the outages and shutdowns at ageing coal fired power plants, investment in transmission infrastructure and high global prices for energy commodities such as gas and oil.
This cannot be known now as no licences have been granted. The state and federal governments have put funding towards the Illawarra Energy Futures Skills Centre to upskill local workers to work in the renewable energy industry.
As part of the licensing requirements, offshore wind developers will have to coexist with existing users of the ocean and follow the principles of shared use.
The developers of the wind farms will finance the projects.
Cables will be laid to connect the wind farms to the grid onshore. A final location has not yet been determined, but developers are exploring options including via Shellharbour or Lake Illawarra to connect at Dapto, or connect to the grid in Port Kembla.
The cables will be laid on the ocean bed, likely in trenches between the offshore substations and the land-based grid.
Depending on the nature of the Australian energy grid when the wind farm begins producing power, which is not expected before 2030, the excess power could be stored in grid batteries, home batteries, car batteries, pumped hydro schemes, or converted into green hydrogen.
All the power will be fed into the National Energy Market, which is the energy grid that connects NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, the ACT and Tasmania. The power will be sold depending on licensing agreements determined by the developers and the government. Some power may be sold through power purchasing agreements, while other portions of the electricity could be sold at the spot price.
This is something that could be considered after a zone is declared.
As part of the licensing agreement, the developer will have to plan for the final decommissioning of any infrastructure.
As the project has not yet reached the feasibility stage, a final cost is unknown.
Wind turbines are one of a number of technologies that use cobalt, a rare earth primarily found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The atrocious conditions of cobalt mining have been documented by groups including Amnesty International. These revelations have forced companies to look more closely at their supply chains, and turn to recycling or replacing cobalt with other materials, however a permanent solution is yet to be found.
Wind farm developers will enter into agreements with wind turbine manufacturers, however as no developer has yet to be granted even a feasibility licence, these agreements are yet to be finalised.
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.
BlueFloat is one of three wind farm developers that have indicated an interest in the Illawarra offshore wind zone. Due to the staged nature of the approvals process, wind farm developers are signalling their interest in the zone and carrying out desktop research prior to the declaration of the zone, so that there is limited delay in each stage.
BlueFloat Energy is based in Spain and its main shareholder is US-based investment firm 547 Energy, the clean energy investment platform of private equity Quantum Capital Group. Quantum Capital Group was founded in 1998 by Wil VanLoh to provide capital to entrepreneurs in the oil and gas sector but has increasingly targeted sustainable energy projects.
Floating wind turbines are often installed further offshore due to the deeper depths, however fixed bottom wind turbines have been installed much closer to shore, in some cases within a few kilometres.
Floating offshore wind turbines have been installed in Scotland, Norway and in Portugal. These installations have influenced the design of the floating foundations and the anchoring technology, as well as the logistics of assembling and installing the turbines.
The height of the turbines has not yet been set. However, in Newcastle part of the conditions of the zone was that turbines were no higher than 260 metres, partly due to the nearby Newcastle airport and Williamtown air base. A similar condition could be imposed in the Illawarra.
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