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Federal government proposes wind farm in the middle of a whale migration route 

Credit:  Emma Kirk | April 8, 2024 | NCA NewsWire | news.com.au ~~

In what is believed to be a world first, the federal government has proposed developing an offshore wind farm in the middle of a whale super highway off Western Australia’s southwest coast.

Each year, tens of thousands of whales use the water in and around Geographe Bay on their annual migration to Antarctica.

The bay is described as a pristine marine ecosystem off Bunbury, about 168km south of Perth, and stretches 98km along the coastline to Cape Naturaliste, between Dunsborough and Yallingup.

The area is one of WA’s most popular tourist destinations and recreational playgrounds, with endless sandy beaches, turquoise waters and an abundance of marine life.

More than 30,000 humpback whales pass through Geographe Bay on their way south as they head towards their feeding grounds.

Endangered southern right whales use the bay to rest and nurse their calves.

The community is in disbelief that an offshore wind farm has been proposed in Geographe Bay and say there has been a lack of information and consultation from authorities.

Geographe Marine Research have monitored the movement of whales through the bay for years and believe a wind farm would be better located on land.

They recently started tagging blue whales in the area and have recorded whales outside the bay area using an acoustic data log, inside the proposed wind farm zone.

Geographe Bay Marine research board member Rodney Peterson said their concern was that the wind farm would be the world’s first in a whale migration route.

“No one can predict how the whales will react to that,” he said.

“It wasn’t that long ago that we nearly wiped whales off the planet.

“The blue whales and southern right populations haven’t come back like the humpbacks.

“We need to see more details about the wind farm and the area that is being proposed.

“The government has not come forward with any details and that is what’s lacking.

“They just need to come forward with research to show why this is a good area, although if they did the research, they would probably find it is not a good area.

“We nearly killed all these whales now we are going to do this to their migration path.”

In February, the federal government started seeking community feedback on the wind farm, which could span up to 7674 sqkm

It would be at least 20km from shore at its closest point off Cape Naturaliste and Bunbury, and 36km from Busselton.

While the project is still in the early stages of development, if approved by the federal and state governments in its current form, it would be located 20km to 70km off the populated coastline.

The Leeuwin Offshore Wind Farm project has been designed by Copenhagen Energy, a Danish renewable energy developer.

Output from the wind farm would be enough electricity to power approximately three million homes and would offset an expected six million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually.

It is expected up to 200 wind turbines would sit in Geographe Bay, operating 24 hours per day, 365 days a year for up to 50 years once operational.

Map of proposed wind farm area. Picture: Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water

Copenhagen Energy has submitted an application to the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water based on their initial environmental, social and economic studies.

Copenhagen Energy chief executive officer Jasmin Bejdic said since then the project had advanced considerably.

“Copenhagen Energy will update and resubmit its plans as part of the federal government regulatory process,” she said.

“The first licence required is a feasibility licence. During the feasibility stage, proposed projects are assessed for environmental approvals including under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

“A further management plan is prepared to cover the entire proposed project, including on the consultation that has taken place with existing marine users, First Nations groups and relevant government departments.

“Steps taken to identify, avoid and mitigate potential impacts, including by sharing benefits from the proposed project are also outlined in the management plan.”

Ms Booth said they had been involved in stakeholder engagement for more than two years, which included various community groups.

“However, we accept that many people are only now becoming aware of plans for offshore wind in WA,” she said.

“When appropriate, we will re-engage with stakeholders including local, state and federal departments and agencies, community groups, unions, industry, ports, fishing bodies and education and training organisations.”

Ms Booth said the federal government must first make a determination on the suitability of its chosen area for offshore wind.

“The final area may change from that initially indicated when consultation began,” she said.

“Considerable work will be done on all elements of the social, economic and environmental aspects of our Leeuwin Offshore Wind Farm in order to meet the strict requirements.

“Assuming all necessary approvals are granted, Copenhagen Energy hopes to be providing first energy from its Leeuwin Offshore Wind Farm in 2030.”

A self-proclaimed ocean rat and fourth generation diver Kyle Trelaor said he “just loved the water” and shed a tear when he learnt about the proposed wind far.

He started a group called Save Our Beloved Geographe Bay for the community to share information about the wind farm and images from beneath the sea because many people were unaware of the marine life that lived there.

“Some people are absolutely terrified, it is a way of life, it is business and tourism,” he said.

“We still shake our heads that this is a thing.

“I don’t know how you can put industrialisation over a pristine ecosystem the last thing we need is big spinning structures.”

Mr Trelaor has been mapping the underwater environment to give people a better perspective of the marine ecosystem off the coast.

He said they had picked the biggest reef and coral system south of Mandurah.

“The government is willing to risk all this for something that benefits industry,” he said.

“The turbines proposed are 280m tall and 20km away, they have to put the turbines straight over the coral which has a lot of people upset.

“They have done no environmental impact (study), they just picked an area and haven’t looked at what’s at stake.

“When you talk about people’s recreational activities, the thought of losing that is diabolic.”

Climate Change and Energy minister Chris Bowen said the zone was chosen for its “ideal location for offshore electricity generation because of the high speed winds in the Indian Ocean, its proximity to large energy users and could enable up to 20 gigawatts of offshore wind to be developed.”

Mr Bowen said offshore wind would be a critical new clean energy industry for Western Australians as electricity demand increased, helping to provide thousands of jobs along the way.

“The Albanese government is committed to genuine consultation on offshore wind – that’s why we want communities, industry and businesses to have their say on an offshore wind area off WA from the very beginning.“

WA Liberal leader Libby Mettam said she shared community concerns about the lack of transparency surrounding the project and believed the consultation process so far has raised more questions than answers.

“The offshore wind farms will have a profound effect on our beautiful coastline and yet there are still many unanswered questions about the full impact it will have on the health and wellbeing of residents living in nearby coastal communities but also on whales, migratory birds and our fish stock,” she said.

“The recent community consultation sessions provided no constructive information or reassurance.

“Residents deserve open and transparent information about the impact of the project and it is not unreasonable to expect the federal government to be able to provide details by this stage of the planning process.

“I have met with southwest locals who are understandably outraged by the process so far, and I will continue to work alongside them to ensure this proposal does not go ahead.”

A spokeswoman for Mr Bowen said they appreciated that proposals for all kinds of new infrastructure and industries could raise concerns and questions from local communities.

“The information sessions were purposely scheduled across a range of days, times and locations, including online, to provide multiple options for people to have the opportunity to engage directly with government representatives,” the spokesperson said.

“We acknowledge many people still have questions about the West Australian zone, and the offshore wind industry more broadly.

“We will be providing opportunities to continue engaging over the coming months, and obviously throughout the various development stages of the zone over the coming years.”

Source:  Emma Kirk | April 8, 2024 | NCA NewsWire | news.com.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 educational 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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