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Companies eye off WA coast for offshore wind energy project sites  

Credit:  By Rebecca Turner | ABC News | www.abc.net.au ~~

At least three companies are investigating establishing offshore wind energy farms in Western Australia, with a subsidiary of a UK-based firm lodging plans for a billion-dollar development off the coast north of Bunbury with WA’s environmental watchdog.

Melbourne offshore wind company Oceanex Energy is also looking for suitable sites in this area, while oil and gas exploration outfit Pilot Energy is investigating the feasibility of the waters around Geraldton.

This is a surge in activity for a renewable energy industry which is so fledgling in Australia that there are no operational offshore wind farms and, as yet, no Commonwealth regulatory environment.

Big investors looking for clean energy

One of the pioneers of the industry in Australia, Oceanex Energy’s chief executive Andy Evans, said this activity was partly due to big investors looking for clean energy projects and other countries looking to decarbonise their economies.

Another key factor was oil and gas companies – with significant expertise in developing and constructing big marine projects, many of them in WA – looking to diversify.

The offshore wind industry is most developed in Europe, although the Biden Administration recently gave the sector a jump-start by setting a target of deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030.

The most advanced Australian development is the $10 billion, 2000MW Star of the South project, in Commonwealth waters off the Gippsland coast, which is still in its early stages.

Investment potential in the billions

The Australian Government has indicated its support for the new industry, with a discussion paper circulated by the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources last year highlighting offshore clean energy projects had the potential to attract billions of dollars of investment and new jobs.

“Offshore clean energy generation can offer large, year-round generation capacity, provide network benefits, align better with demand, and have less visual impact on the landscape than other energy generation options,” the paper said.

Stronger winds equal more reliable energy source

Offshore wind farms are similar to those found onshore but on a much bigger scale, from the cost of the projects to the size of the wind turbines, according to Andy Evans, who founded Star of the South and remains a shareholder.

Being out at sea allows for bigger wind turbines to capture a more powerful energy source than on land.

“The wind is stronger and it’s pretty much continually blowing,” Mr Evans said.

“It generates a lot more electricity so it’s a lot more reliable.”

The “consistent, strong winds” in the southern half of WA are one of the key reasons cited by WA Offshore Windfarm Pty Ltd for its application for environmental approval to build and operate a wind farm.

The company plans to build the wind farm about five kilometres off the coast between Preston beach and Myalup in the state’s South West.

ASIC documents show the WA Offshore Windfarm Pty Ltd is a wholly owned subsidiary of the UK-registered company Australis Energy Ltd, which also has plans for wind farms off South Australia and Victoria.

Offshore WA ‘ideal location’

As outlined in its Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) application, Australis is chaired by Mark Petterson, who has experience in developing wind farms in the UK with Warwick Energy.

For its first development in WA, the company’s plans show that as many as 37 turbines will generate up to 300MW which will be transmitted via subsea cable to – approvals willing – the electricity grid via the Kemerton substation.

The wind turbines – with rotor diameter of 220 metres and maximum hub height of 154 metres – will be in state waters.

“Offshore wind farms are currently being built in areas of favourable wind conditions and shallow water where construction costs are low,” its EPA application said.

“The density of wind energy offshore in south western Australia represents an attractive location for offshore wind farms, and when combined with the relatively shallow waters and small tidal range, the proposed state waters location represents an ideal location for an initial offshore wind farm construction to kickstart the industry.”

But some of the key environmental risks identified in the application include:

  • The turbines changing the existing seascape of Myalup, where there are “untouched ocean views”, and its local role as “a recreational and tourism node”
  • The impact of the turbines on protected marine animals like whales, turtles, sharks, western rock lobster and birds
  • The project’s closeness to Lake Preston, which is part of internationally significant wetlands

The application said some other impacts would require more consultation, for example, on Aboriginal cultural heritage and local lifestyle.

“The landscape character of the surrounding area holds ecological, scientific and social significance to the community,” it said.

Like WA Offshore Windfarm, Oceanex Energy is also attracted to the closeness of the Bunbury coastline to the electricity grid, however it plans a wind farm further out to sea in Commonwealth waters.

It is one of the key factors for the company as it looks to develop a portfolio of five $10 billion projects off the coast of Australia – including in the Newcastle and Illwarra regions – and New Zealand.

“The problem we’ve got in Australia is we have a lot of great generation resources, like solar and wind, but no-one lives where we may be able to generate,” Mr Evans said.

“And it’s usually around coal where all the grid infrastructure has been built.

“Now with a lot of coal mines forecast to shut down, that’s where the opportunity is – to plug into available grid, or grid which will be available.”

Source:  By Rebecca Turner | ABC News | www.abc.net.au

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

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