With plans to build Australia’s first offshore wind farm underway, residents in Victoria’s Gippsland region are calling for all the detail to be laid bare with many of them facing the prospect of cables running underneath their properties.
The Star of the South offshore wind farm is still in the feasibility stage, but if approved would see 250 turbines out to sea about 20 to 25 kilometres off the coast of Port Albert.
Local residents have met to discuss the project.
Meeting organiser Rosemary Irving, a wool producer in Woodside, is well-known in the community for leading the charge against the Basslink project in the early 2000s.
“Many of our property owners have been contacted by Star of the South, and we wanted more information about the possible cable routes, the planning that’s involved, the construction, the compensation, and maintenance,” Ms Irving said.
“We’re a very close community here. We all want to know what’s happening and we all want to share the information.”
Not a protest meeting
Ms Irving said she was concerned about the construction of the underground cables that would connect the offshore wind farm to the Latrobe Valley.
The cables will potentially be installed through farming properties, and she said she wanted farmers to be fully equipped when negotiating with Star of the South.
“We’re a farming operation, and it will be very disruptive to our business, so we need to know what’s happening so we can organise ourselves.
“This was not a protest meeting,” she said.
She said the offshore wind turbines were far preferable to having wind turbines on a farm, or in the district.
“But the people who are going to be affected, they need assistance to get the best outcome for them.”
Replacing coal-fired power
Sandy Gordon, a sheep farmer at Woodside, said it was good for everyone to get together to discuss the project.
“[Wind farms] are probably going to be the way of the future. Can we stop it? History will tell us that,” he said.
“We probably can’t, but versus coal getting shut down many years ahead, we need some form of power to take over that coal-fired power.
“Wind farms, solar, whatever it’s going to be, we don’t know.
“If it’s offshore that’s probably a good thing, but the effects that are building are what we’re not clear on.”
Farmer Greg Tuckett said he was worried about how people outside of the community would view the group’s concerns.
“I’m worried that, because this is seen as a green-energy project, anyone who wants to veto the idea will be considered a right-wing coal-burning lover,” he said.
“I’m worried [landholders] be shamed into concession if they don’t want the cables on their land, or don’t like the idea of the project.
“These farmers don’t have a lot of skills politically about the process. They’ve been contacted by professionals who are qualified to negotiate.”
“It would be terrible if we were seen as being obstructionist.”
The farming communities around Woodside are about a 20-minute drive west of Port Albert, an idyllic seaside town that the offshore wind farm will be closest to.
Port Albert Wharf managing director Michael Hobson said he thought residents were cautiously optimistic.
“Both in terms of being good economically for the region, and also as far as producing power, that’s essentially green power, there’s been a lot of positivity regarding that,” he said.
“Some people are concerned about the potential effect on the nearby Ramsar wetlands, and the effects on migratory animals like whales, birds, seals, sea lions and fish species.”
Star of the South has commissioned underwater seabed investigations for the offshore wind farm over two weeks.
Neil Winman, the project manager for Furgo, the company doing the seabed testing, said it was undertaking a geophysical survey.
“We’ve got a number of sensors which are towed at the back of the vessels, and some of the sensors sit on the surface,” he said.
Star of the South’s Chief Development Officer Erin Coldham said the testing would allow them to research depths, conditions and any problematic infrastructure like old shipwrecks.
“We’ve got some marine ecology happening out there, to understand what the birds and mammals are like, as well as onshore tests, such as soil tests and some investigations to understand where the cable infrastructure might go,” she said.
Star of the South will be holding information sessions in April.
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