New legislation gives offshore wind farms a boost

An ambitious company hopes to create Australia’ first offshore wind farm with plans  to begin operation in 2030 to generate up to 2.2GW of new capacity.

This would be enough to power 1.2 million homes, or about 20% of Victoria’s power needs.

A 496-square-kilometre site off the southern coast of Gippsland in Victoria has been earmarked for the Star of the South, a technologically and financially difficult  project  in the pipeline for 10 years.

Chief development officer Erin Coldham says the initial idea was suggested in 2012, but it wasn’t until investors Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners came on board in 2017 that the project grew wings.

“We had convinced ourselves that offshore wind made sense,” Coldham says. “Having built that confidence – well before the legislation was in place – we started talking to government.”

Project studies for the Star of the South have been underway for the past couple of years, basically an act of faith ahead of the Federal Government passing the Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Act late last year.

The Act established the first regulatory framework for clean energy projects to be built and operated off the coastline of Australia.  There are already a number of proposals for sites around the country.

Coldham says the potential in Australia is enormous, with significant offshore winds, and Star of the South believes it has chosen the optimum site off the Gippsland coast with suitable sea depths and access to the roaring Bass Strait winds.

“It’s a huge opportunity for Australia,” Coldham says. “This is an untapped resource. We have been tapping into onshore wind and solar, but offshore winds are very strong, and this represents a wonderful opportunity – and it is exciting to be part of the industry as it’s being formed.”

The project is thought to be the most advanced of Australia’s current wind farm proposals. About 30 people are currently employed to progress the early stages, with investigations underway on both the sea and land footprint.

Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners has provided financial backing for current investigations and development activities. Star of the South is funded by the “Copenhagen Infrastructure IV” fund – the largest greenfield renewable energy fund in the world at 7 billion Euro. Investors in the fund include super funds and other institutional investors from Australia, Asia, North American and Europe.  [IM2] 

If it meets all the challenges – securing all approvals, financial viability and enlisting suppliers – Star of the South will include up to 200 turbines 7-25km off the coast of towns including Port Albert, McLoughlins and Woodside Beaches.

The energy travels from offshore substations via underground export cables to land, where another network of underground cables and above-ground substations transmit electricity to the Latrobe Valley. The grid connection point is expected to be at an existing terminal station. Star of the South has reached an agreement with 25% of the landholders along the identified preferred route.

Sea and land investigations have included: seabed studies; wind and wave measurements; environmental studies; transmission, grid and engineering capacity and  identifying opportunities for local industry.

It is working towards preparation of the Commonwealth Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Victorian Environment Effects Statement (EES).

Star of the Sea hopes to transition workers following the closure of the Yallourn coal-fired power plant and is talking to a number of other operating coal mining operations in the region about transitioning staff.

“We are also talking to local training institutions about what skills people have got and how to get the workforce ready to participate in offshore wind,” Coldham says. “What we are finding is that oil and gas industry workers already have two-thirds of the skills they will need.”

But what will the wind farm look like from the shore? 

“The towers will be visible from shore,” Coldham says. “They are very large.

“The biggest is likely to be 350m tall. It could become a tourist attraction – we have seen that in other countries with boat tours and diving charters.”

Star of the Sea offshore wind farm project.


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