- The Commonwealth Government has made commitments to establish an offshore wind sector by implementing the Offshore Energy Infrastructure Framework.
- Offshore wind energy has been projected as one of the largest sources of electricity in the Government’s clean energy transition. The global offshore wind sector has undergone rapid expansion in recent years with major advances in technology and cost reductions, making offshore wind an increasingly competitive option for large scale energy generation. Europe has traditionally been the global leader in offshore wind technology and generation capacity, however interest in Australia’s wind potential is increasing with six priority areas for offshore wind energy generation being proposed.
- WAFIC anticipates the commercial fishing industry will be one of the largest stakeholder groups to be impacted by the development of this sector. While our industry is supportive of developing renewable energy, it cannot be to the detriment and expense of the commercial fishing sector – our view is that both must co-exist, so mutual collaboration is key to securing win-win outcomes.
Offshore Energy Infrastructure (OEI) Framework
The regulatory framework for offshore wind projects in Commonwealth waters was established in June 2022 by the Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Act 2021 (OEI Act) and the Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Regulations 2022.
The OEI Act and associated regulations provides a licencing scheme to enable the construction, operation, and decommissioning of offshore electricity infrastructure projects, and outlines how and where infrastructure projects for offshore renewable energy generation or transmission can operate.
Under the OEI Act, the Minister for Energy can declare areas suitable for offshore renewable energy infrastructure, both at a commercial scale and for research and development of new and emerging technologies. The declaration of an offshore area is informed through public consultation with stakeholders including existing marine users, State and Commonwealth Government agencies with responsibilities in the marine area and the broader community.
The Minister has released six priority areas around Australia, with the Gippsland and Hunter areas officially declared:
- Bass Strait off Gippsland, Victoria – https://www.dcceew.gov.au/energy/renewable/offshore-wind/areas/gippsland
- Pacific Ocean region off the Hunter in NSW https://www.dcceew.gov.au/energy/renewable/offshore-wind/areas/hunter
- Pacific Ocean region off the Illawarra in NSW https://www.dcceew.gov.au/energy/renewable/offshore-wind/areas/illawarra
- Southern Ocean region off Portland in Victoria/SA https://www.dcceew.gov.au/energy/renewable/offshore-wind/areas/southern-ocean-region
- Bass Strait region off Northern Tasmania https://www.dcceew.gov.au/energy/renewable/offshore-wind/areas/bass-strait
- Indian Ocean region off Bunbury in WA https://www.dcceew.gov.au/energy/renewable/offshore-wind/areas/bunbury
Licensing Offshore Renewable Energy Projects
A licence is needed to build and operate offshore infrastructure projects. There are 4 types of licences:
- Feasibility licences – Authorise the licence holder to assess the feasibility of a proposed project for up to 7 years. Feasibility licences are only available for use in a declared area and is needed before applying for a commercial licence.
- Commercial licences – Allow for the construction and operation of offshore renewable energy generation projects for up to 40 years. These licences will only be available in declared areas and follow the successful assessment of the proposed project during the feasibility licence stage.
- Transmission and infrastructure licences – Permit subsea cables to be installed to transmit electricity.
- Research and demonstration licences – Allow for trialling and testing of new offshore renewable energy technologies for up to 10 years.
As the OEI framework is in the early stages of implementation in Australia, currently only feasibility licences are open for application once an area is declared. The granting of licences within a declared area will be a competitive process, importantly noting not all proposed projects will be approved.
Regulatory Process Map
© Offshore Infrastructure Regulator 2024
More information on the regulatory process and declaring areas suitable for offshore renewable energy projects is available on the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water’s website.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What is an offshore wind farm?
An offshore wind farm consists of a group of wind turbines that are built in formation in the ocean. Energy is generated from strong and reliable offshore wind via large wind turbines. Through a series of cables and substations, electricity is transported back to the land to a major electricity grid connection point, where electricity is provided to power industrial developments and/or distributed to power homes and businesses.
Offshore wind projects can generate more electricity with higher efficiency than typical onshore wind farms given the quality of offshore wind resources. They are considered more efficient due to higher wind speeds, greater consistency, and lack of physical interference that land/infrastructure can present.
How are priority areas and locations assessed?
A combination of factors is considered when declaring areas for offshore wind, including:
- Wind resource
- Connectivity to ports, transmission networks and supporting local labour markets
- Consideration of local fisheries and other commercial activities in the area
- Minimal visual impact and no noise impact from the turbines, with relation to nearby land masses
- Consideration of protected species within and nearby the area
- Water depth
- Seabed landscape
What happens when an area is declared?
A declared area designates where offshore wind proponents can locate individual project proposals and apply for feasibility licences. If the Minister declares an area as suitable for offshore wind, proponents will be required to apply for smaller feasibility licence areas in order to advance any offshore wind projects. Licence holders will be required to consult and seek feedback on their proposed projects and must demonstrate how they will share the project area with existing users, including commercial fishing.
What are the potential impacts upon the commercial fishing sector?
The construction and operation of wind turbines could impact commercial fishing in a variety of ways, including:
- Displacing commercial fishers from traditional fishing areas
- Loss of benthic habitat
- Changing the distribution, abundance, and species composition of fish in an area
- Impacts from electromagnetic fields and underwater noise
- Increasing vessel traffic and competition for support services on shore
- Potentially disrupting vessel radar systems once operational
- Economic impacts
- Damaging or loss of fishing gear
- Reducing safety at sea from increased vessel traffic and navigation challenges
What is the size of proposed wind farms and how many turbines will they include?
The total area of each offshore wind farm and number of turbines that may be proposed for an individual project is yet to be determined. Further consultation on these details will happen if a proponent reaches the feasibility stage.
Will there be exclusion zones?
The OEI Act provides for safety and protection zones to be established in and around offshore renewable energy projects. A safety zone can prohibit vessels from entering a specified area for a period of time, such as during construction of a wind farm, to minimise risks to the safety of workers and to other marine users. A protection zone can prohibit or restrict vessels from conducting certain types of activities which may result in risks to safety or damage to offshore renewable energy infrastructure.
There is currently no policy or guidelines on safety and protection zones anywhere in Australia as projects are still in early development stage. It is expected that the exact details and duration of these zones will be determined on a project-by-project basis by the Offshore Infrastructure Regulator.
Who’s the responsible regulator?
The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) is the Offshore Infrastructure Regulator responsible for regulating offshore infrastructure activity in Commonwealth waters under the OEI Act.
What to do if approached by a wind farm proponent to attend a meeting?
WAFIC are trying to work with proponents and Government strategically to establish the best co-existence model for all WA commercial fisheries. Given no proponents have feasibility licences and the declared area is not finalised, WAFIC does not recommend meeting with proponents at this early stage. However, if meetings do occur, we encourage you to take notes and document any outcomes. If requested, WAFIC is happy to attend and support industry.
How does the regulator assess the environmental impacts of wind farm projects?
Project proposals will undergo a comprehensive environmental and planning approvals process, prior to commercial licence approval and commencement of any construction. Detailed environmental assessments about the local area will be completed during feasibility studies, and all projects will need to receive environmental approvals under Australian law – the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). Offshore wind projects that do not get EPBC Act approvals cannot proceed.
What is WAFIC doing?
WAFIC is fully engaged with Government and WA proponents to ensure the concerns of the commercial fishing industry are fully considered and understood. WAFIC has made the following representations:
- Seeking changes to Government approval requirements to:
- Ensure industry is adequately engaged and consulted.
- Ensure the cumulative impacts of project proposals are formally considered.
- Facilitated meetings with NOPSEMA, which has acquired functions of the Offshore Infrastructure Regulator.
- Reached out to the WA Premier and engaged with the Minister for Fisheries, Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, and the Environmental Protection Authority to raise concerns of the commercial fishing industry.
- Met with Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science, and Innovation to understand the Australian Government’s approach and position to offshore wind farm development.
- Met with the Commonwealth Minister for Energy and the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water to discuss minimising impacts to our industry prior to any areas declared.
- Engaged with Fishing Federations from Scotland, Finland, and Denmark to learn from European experiences with the offshore renewable energy sector.
- Held meetings with several serious proponents including the CEO of Copenhagen Energy, which is the major wind farm proponent in WA.
- Secured funding from FRDC to lead Project 2022-104 to explore co-existence frameworks and identify future R&D priorities for the commercial fishing sector.
Who to contact for further information?
Please reach out to WAFIC staff members for further information or if you would like a more detailed understanding of offshore wind farms please contact Carli Telfer [email protected] or Tessa Ramshaw [email protected]