- Commonwealth and State Governments in Australia have signalled their commitment 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 several sites for offshore wind energy generation being considered.
- WAFIC anticipates the commercial fishing industry will be one of the largest group of stakeholders to potentially be commercially impacted by the development of this sector. While our industry should be supportive of developing the renewable energy sector, 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 national 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 enable the construction, operation and decommissioning of offshore electricity infrastructure, and outline how and where infrastructure projects for renewable energy generation or transmission can operate.
The OEI Act empowers the Commonwealth Government to declare areas suitable for offshore renewable energy infrastructure. Once an area has been declared, proposed offshore wind projects can apply for a licence, which is needed to explore, construct, operate, and decommission an offshore wind farm.
Under the framework, the Commonwealth Minister for Energy makes all licensing decisions. This includes declaring areas suitable for offshore renewable energy infrastructure, both at a commercial scale and for research and development (R & D) of new and emerging technologies. The declaration of an offshore area is informed through consultation with stakeholders including existing marine users, State and Commonwealth Government agencies with responsibilities in the marine area and the community.
The Minister first declared an area in the Bass Strait off Gippsland, Victoria, as suitable for offshore renewable energy on 19 December 2022.
The Minister has identified another five priority areas, in no particular order, for assessment for area declaration:
- Pacific Ocean region off the Hunter in NSW
- Pacific Ocean region off the Illawarra in NSW
- Southern Ocean region off Portland in Victoria
- Bass Strait region off Northern Tasmania
- Indian Ocean region off Perth/Bunbury in WA
Licensing Offshore Renewable Energy Projects
Proponents wanting to undertake offshore renewable energy infrastructure projects will need a licence:
- Commercial licences allow offshore renewable energy infrastructure projects for up to 40 years.
- Transmission and infrastructure licences permit installation and operation of undersea interconnectors to transmit electricity.
- R&D licences enable short-term projects (up to 10 years) to trial and test new offshore renewable energy technologies.
Proponents require a feasibility licence before applying for a commercial licence. Feasibility licences permit the holder to assess the feasibility of a project for up to seven (7) years.
Proponents can apply for a feasibility or R&D licence in an area after the Minister declares it suitable for offshore renewable energy infrastructure. The granting of licences within a declared area will be a competitive process, importantly noting not all proposals will be approved.
Further details on the approval process can be found in the Offshore Renewables Environmental Approvals document.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What is an offshore wind farm?
An offshore wind farm consists of a group of wind turbines that are built in a 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 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 wind farm areas, including:
- Consideration of local fisheries and other commercial activities in the area
- Connectivity to ports, transmission networks and supporting local labour markets
- Minimal visual impact and no noise impact from the turbines, with relation to nearby land masses
- Consideration of wildlife and bird species assessment within and nearby the area
- Wind resource
- Water depth
- Seabed landscape
Have any waters been declared in WA?
The only waters declared for offshore renewable energy in Australia are in Victoria. At this stage it is not clear when area declarations will be made in WA waters. It’s important to note that not all of the projects will go ahead.
The projects stated above, have no approval to proceed until an area has been formally declared.
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
- Increasing vessel traffic and competition for support services on shore
- Impacts from electromagnetic fields and underwater noise
- Disrupting vessel radar systems
- Causing economic losses
- Damaging or destroying 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 wind farm and number of turbines will be confirmed once detailed feasibility and technical assessments are completed.
Will the commercial fishing industry be consulted?
The consultation process is very detailed, and there will be multiple opportunities to provide feedback and objections for certain marine areas.
Prior to the area declaration, the Minister for Energy will publish a notice on the DCCEEW website that specifies the area being considered for future licensing under the OEI Act for a period of at least 60 days and will invite submissions from the public.
As a matter of priority, WAFIC will continue to ensure the emerging offshore renewable energy sector co-exists with the commercial fishing sector. We will continue to keep our industry engaged. Offshore energy construction for WA is many years away, so WAFIC is mindful of consultation fatigue.
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 waters have been declared in WA, and not all proposal will go ahead, 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.
Will there be exclusion zones?
There is no policy on exclusion zones anywhere in Australia as projects are still in the early development stage. WAFIC is meeting regularly with the regulator to manage the fishing industry requirements around offshore wind farms, and we will update industry when more clarity has been provided.
What is WAFIC doing?
WAFIC is fully engaged with proponents in WA to ensure the concerns of the commercial fishing industry are fully understood and considered. 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 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 Agency 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
- 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.
- Working with FRDC to secure funding to lead a project to explore co-existence frameworks and identify future R&D priorities for the commercial fishing sector.
Who’s the responsible regulator?
The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) is the Offshore Infrastructure Regular responsible for regulating offshore infrastructure activity in Commonwealth waters under the OEI Act.
How does the regulator assess the environmental impacts of wind farm projects?
Proposals will undergo a comprehensive environmental and planning approvals process in consultation with State and Commonwealth regulatory departments, prior to commercial licence approval and commencement of any construction. Detailed environmental investigations to gather information about the local area will be completed during feasibility assessment, which will need to meet legal and regulatory requirements.
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 via email: [email protected] or Tessa Ramshaw via email: [email protected].