Posted on January 15, 2024
A SHOCK decision by the federal government to block their Victorian counterparts from developing the Port of Hastings as an offshore wind terminal has taken the wind out of the state government’s sails, who have indicated they’ll fight the veto.
A state government spokesperson said they were assessing the Commonwealth’s feedback to determine the next steps.
“Victoria is proud to be developing Australia’s first offshore wind industry, which will be crucial for delivering national energy security and create thousands of jobs right here in Victoria. The Victorian Renewable Energy Terminal is key to achieving this,” the spokesperson said.
A spokesperson for the federal Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DECCEEW) said the Victorian Renewable Energy Terminal proposal would have had unacceptable impacts on the internationally protected Western Port Ramsar Wetland (WPRW).
“The proposal was deemed clearly unacceptable under national environment law,” the departmental spokesperson said.
In the statement of reasons for the decision, Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek noted social and economic benefit of the Port of Hastings, but said the ecological impacts of the WPRW could not be mitigated or offset. These include negative impacts on water quality and wildlife.
Minister Plibersek’s colleague, Energy Minister Chris Bowen, backed the move, and said it wouldn’t have a major impact on his government’s plans to reduce emissions and support offshore wind farms.
At a press conference, Premier Jacinta Allen said the state government remained undeterred by the decision, and said they will work on policy settings with the federal government.
“We remain undeterred that this is a good project … that can be delivered with appropriate (environmental) mitigations,” Ms Allen said.
The Victorian Renewable Energy Terminal at Port Hastings, south-east of Melbourne, would have been a hub for the construction of wind turbines, which would be used to power wind farms off the coast of Gippsland. It was an important part of the state government’s plans to reduce emissions. The state government cannot appeal the ruling, but can offer amendments or withdraw the project.
Victoria has a renewable energy target of 95 per cent by 2035 and energy storage target of 6.3 gigawatts by 2035.
As for Port of Hastings Corporation, the company said it will now look at the most appropriate path forward.
“The Port of Hastings Corporation has received a decision from the Commonwealth government that the Victorian Renewable Energy Terminal proposal as referred under the EPBC Act in August last year would have unacceptable impacts on matters protected by the EPBC Act (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999),” the company said in a statement.
“We are currently assessing the decision and considering our options. An update will be provided in due course.”
Wellington Shire Council Mayor Ian Bye, as well as Member for Gippsland South, Danny O’Brien have both said they want Barry Beach in South Gippsland to be considered as an alternative site for the terminal.
“Council maintains its support of renewable energy, especially in the Gippsland region where over $40 billion in investment is planned. We are waiting eagerly for the federal government to give the green light for the next phase in developing Australia’s first offshore wind zone,” Cr Bye told the Gippsland Times.
“We await further updates from both the Victorian government and the private sector regarding preferred port solutions and continue to advocate for a local port at Barry Beach/Port Anthony, helping to boost the offshore wind sector in our region.”
“ONE of council’s key priority’s (sic), reflected in the Wellington Renewable Energy Impact and Readiness Study, is to make sure new energy jobs stay in Victoria, close to Gippsland – supporting Australia’s first renewable energy projects,” Cr Bye said.
“With this news, we urge the state government to seriously consider Barry Beach/Port Anthony in South Gippsland as an alternative option. This way, jobs will be where they are needed the most, helping us shift from traditional to new energy and securing a strong future for Wellington Shire and Gippsland.”
Mr O’Brien said the knockback of Hastings means Barry Beach now has to be reconsidered as a construction port for the offshore wind industry.
“The federal government’s decision to veto the Port of Hastings as the offshore wind farm construction port puts Barry Beach in South Gippsland squarely back in the picture,” Mr O’Brien said.
“Barry Beach should never have been dismissed by the Labor government so easily in the first place.
“While it would also require some dredging, there are few alternative port options for this industry. The Commonwealth’s decision confirms what I’ve always said: Hastings was never as simple a proposition as state Labor made out.
“The next closest option in terms of steaming time is Bell Bay in Tasmania and that would be a disaster for Victoria’s interests.
“If Gippsland is going to see the full benefits of these projects, then Barry Beach must be considered for both construction and operations and maintenance.
“If this industry is to go ahead off our coast and with transmission lines through our landscape, Gippsland must get the maximum benefit from jobs and economic activity.
“The state Labor government needs to go back to the drawing board and give serious consideration to further development at Barry Beach.”
Shadow Minister for Energy, Energy Affordability and Security, David Davis was scathing in his assessment of the situation.
“Victorians continue to be punished for the incompetence of the Labor government,” he said.
“This is a debacle and Victoria’s offshore wind policy is now in tatters – meaning higher energy prices for Victorians at a time they can least afford it.
“Victoria’s offshore wind policy is now back to square one. How did Victoria, and specifically the Energy Minister, Lily D’Ambrosio, not see this coming?”
Star of the South, one of Australia’s most advanced offshore wind projects, proposed to be located off the Wellington coast, said it was committed to finding a suitable replacement.
However, its chief executive, Charles Rattray said the assessment was a “matter for government”.
“We’ll continue to work with a range of ports and all levels of government as we plan for Star of the South and seek to advance Australia’s offshore wind industry,” he said.
Ports are critical enablers of an offshore wind industry, and the company’s preferred option was the Port of Hastings.
Star of the South undertook a year-long analysis of port options across 2022-23, which identified multiple suitable ports for further consideration. The Victorian Renewable Energy Terminal at Port of Hastings, Geelong Port, and the Port of Bell Bay were all identified as potential options to support the project’s construction.
More than one port is expected to be needed for the construction phase. Barry Beach Marine Terminal and Port Anthony (both near Welshpool) were identified as good options to host the project’s Gippsland Operations Base – this is where workers managing day-to-day wind farm construction and operations activities would be based.
Star of the South said they were working closely with the range of ports identified through its analysis as planning for the project continues.
Carolyn Sanders, who is the Head of Operations at Flotation Energy, who run a different offshore wind project for Gippsland called Seadragon, made a similar statement to Mr Rattray, saying the assessment was a matter for the state and federal government to work through.
“Flotation Energy will continue to work with all levels of government as well as key stakeholders and potential ports to ensure project readiness,” Ms Sanders said.