BlueScope has dropped plans for making wind towers at its Advanced Steel Manufacturing precinct because the pieces, once loaded on trucks, would not fit under bridges which cross the M1 in Wollongong.
The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the precinct at Port Kembla went public last Friday, missing one of its headline features - a new wind tower manufacturing facility.
The number of jobs BlueScope said the project would create has been slashed from almost 200, including 140 permanent positions at the wind tower facility, to an average of 60 during construction (peaking at 95) and just 18 permanent jobs when operational.
Billed as a fusion of Wollongong's industrial history and its clean energy future, the wind tower facility was one of the main drawcards for the precinct when former energy minister Angus Taylor announced a $55 million Commonwealth grant for the precinct in March last year - and "practical action to help deliver a low emissions future".
The others were producing steel for the defence industry and upgrading the steelworks' plate mill, which has now become the project's main focus.
On Tuesday BlueScope CEO Mark Vassella said the bridges would count this region out for wind tower manufacturing.
"There are just some restrictions from a road bridge infrastructure perspective, that makes it difficult for the fabrication of wind towers to occur in this region," he said.
"Literally, physically, you can't transport the wind towers because of the size of them and get them under existing bridge infrastructure, for example."
The precinct's value has now been revised down from between $212 million and $250 million, to $206 million.
There had been warning sounds for some time about the ability to transport wind tower pieces from Port Kembla, in particular because of the bridges over the M1 near the University of Wollongong.
In June the NSW Ports 40-year plan detailed how M1 bridges could limit what could be trucked out of Port Kembla.
"With wind tower diameters increasing from 4.5 to 5.5 metres in the short term and to 6.5 metres in the longer term, the bridge heights over the Princes Highway to Mount Ousley (5.0m to 5.4m) will be exceeded," the NSW Ports plan said.
"Use of Corrimal St for wind towers exceeding the bridge height limits will be required."
BlueScope had met with government authorities about the bridges; the decision to drop the wind turbine facility indicates the bridges were unlikely to be raised.
Mr Vassella said wind towers could be manufactured elsewhere in Australia, and BlueScope will be able to manufacture the steel to make them.
"I still think there's a fantastic opportunity for wind tower manufacturing and fabrication in Australia, it's more likely to happen in regional areas where we don't have the restrictions but an important ... part of that process, as well as the whole local content requirement to ensure that we have local content and fabrication, steel production in wind towers."
Asked whether bridges could be raised, or alternative routes through Wollongong, such as Corrimal St, would be found, Mr Vassella said that was a matter for the government.
"Those sorts of decisions become very much economic decisions about, does it make more sense to make those sorts of changes to infrastructure, which are very expensive and very disruptive, or, in fact, to shift the fabrication to other areas where it's more suited.
"So there are economic decisions, the government will have to get their head around."
BlueScope's initial scoping report said the wind tower facility aloine was "anticipated to create up to 180 jobs during construction and approximately 140 permanent operational roles" - on top of 16 at the plate mill.
The precinct's new EIS has reduced this to an average of 60 jobs during construction (to a peak of 95) and just 18 permanent jobs when operating.
In November last year Transport for NSW met with BlueScope about the road transport issue and its advice was that Corrimal St and Bourke St were not appropriate for oversized trucking.
"TfNSW has met with the developer for initial discussions regarding routes proposed for the OSOM traffic movements relating to the transportation of wind towers," Transport's EIS submission states.
"At this time, some routes identified (Corrimal and Bourke Street) are not considered appropriate routes for [oversized] vehicles of an operational nature."
BlueScope welcomed the $55 million funding from Canberra in March last year, saying it would now be able to "get on with the job of making essential components for the clean energy transition including wind towers and solar farm componentry".
"The investment - which will create an Advanced Steel Manufacturing Precinct at Port Kembla Steelworks - will see the building of a new fabrication facility to manufacture components for the renewable energy, defence and other sectors, as well as upgrades and modernisation of BlueScope's Plate Mill," Mr Vassella said at the time.
"Today's announcement is an example of BlueScope and its partners 'walking the talk' and taking practical action to help deliver a low emissions future for Australia."
Mr Taylor was even more upbeat.
"This precinct represents an incredible win-win - not only increasing the local production of Aussie-made steel, but also helping build up our renewable energy and defence sectors," Mr Taylor said at the time.
- with reporting by Connor Pearce
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