A decision by Australia’s federal government to reject plans for the country’s first wind port on the grounds that it would have “unacceptable impacts” on the environment and wildlife has created a major challenge to the first planned offshore wind farms.
The federal government reached its decision in mid-December, but only published it on January 8th.
The Port of Hasting Corporation, which was to host the staging and assembly area, and the government for the state of Victoria, said that they would explore their alternatives.
Australia is something of a latecomer to developing renewable energy from offshore wind farms. It went through a lengthy process of setting the regulatory framework before it chose the coast off Victoria to host the country’s first projects. The area was selected in 2022 and it focused on a stretch of the coast covering a little more than 12 miles, in the Gippsland region near the town of Golden Beach.
Victoria wants to generate 2 GW from offshore wind by 2032 and 9 GW by 2040. But one of the state’s problems was that none of the ports in the region were suited to supporting the development of large offshore wind farms. That led to a plan to develop the state-owned Port of Hastings. However, this would have required dredging approximately 227 acres, including a wetlands area. They planned to reclaim approximately 70 acres to create a large-scale staging and assembly point for the country’s first two offshore wind farms.
The Port of Hastings has a large area of available land close to deep water channels. It also has channel capacity and is close to existing port facilities. The wind port was tied to the first two projects off Gippsland and Portland.
But Australia’s Minister for the Environment had other concerns. “The proposed action is likely to cause irreversible damage to the habitat of waterbirds and migratory birds and marine invertebrates and fish,” said Tanya Plibersek in her statement of reason for the decision to block the port’s development and, by implication, the offshore wind development. She specifically cited the impacts of destroying or substantially modifying the wetlands, while noting in addition that the dredging would disrupt tidal flow in the area, which would affect the fish.
The decision is a final ruling, without a means for appeal. The only option would be for the state government or the port operator to take the federal government to court, but that would tie up the case in legal knots, possibly for several years, and with no certainty of success.
The Port of Hastings Corporation and the state of Victoria acknowledged that it had received the decision. Both said that they were studying their options
Government officials told local media that they would not be deterred from moving forward with the plans for offshore wind energy. Among the options would be revising the proposal to address the reasons for the blocking of the proposal by the federal government, and resubmitting it. Alternatively they could abandon Port Hastings and try their luck at a new location, although that would necessitate a completely new submission. Media reports said that the Star of the South wind farm, likely to be Australia’s first, was also assessing Geelong or Bell Bay in Tasmania as secondary sites for construction and staging of materials.