Offshore wind farms are one step closer in Australia following an announcement from the Federal Government on Friday. Federal Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen opened consultation on Gippsland as a declared area under the OEI Act, as well as identifying the next 5 potential offshore wind areas.
Following the commencement of the Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Act 2021 (Cth) (OEI Act) on 2 June 2022, the announcement from the Federal Government to open consultation on the Gippsland area is a significant step in making offshore wind a reality.
The proposed area shown at Figure 1 is one of the strongest wind resources in Australia. Submissions can be made through the Consultation Hub until 7 October 2022. Following the consultation period, the Minister may declare the area as suitable for offshore renewable energy infrastructure and invite proponents to apply for a feasibility licence. You can read more about the information required for a feasibility licence application in our earlier update.
Figure 1: Indicative map of area included in the ‘Notice of Proposal to Declare an Area Bass Strait off Gippsland, Victoria’ made under section 18 of the OEI Act.
Other offshore wind zones to be investigated
The Minister announced the Government’s intention to begin consultation on a further 5 offshore wind areas. These are the:
- Pacific Ocean region off the Hunter Valley in NSW
- Pacific Ocean region off the Illawarra in NSW
- Pacific Ocean region off Portland in Victoria
- Bass Strait region off northern Tasmania
- Indian Ocean region off Perth and Bunbury in WA
A timeline was not given by the Minister in his press conference outside of his expectation to start consultation soon.
While the OEI Act has commenced, the accompanying regulations have not yet been finalised following the consultation period in April 2022. The draft regulations did not contain any provisions relating to declaring areas, and so any regulations made in the short term are not likely to be relevant to this Gippsland declaration phase.
While the submissions period closes on 7 October 2022, we do not know when the Minister will make the declaration. There is no prescribed time in the Act. The Minister is obliged to consult the Defence Minister (Richard Marles) and the Minister administering the Navigation Act (Catherine King) and must also satisfy himself that the area is suitable for offshore renewable energy infrastructure. In doing so the Minister must have regard to:
- the potential impacts of the construction, installation, commissioning, operation, maintenance or decommissioning of offshore renewable energy infrastructure in the area on other marine users and interests;
- any submissions received in accordance with the notice under section 18;
- any advice received as a result of the consultation with the Defence Minister and Minister administering the Navigation Act;
- Australia’s international obligations in relation to the area; and
- any other matters that the Minister considers relevant.
Ultimately the Minister may declare all of the proposed Gippsland area, but is also able to approve part of the proposed area, or declare the area subject to conditions. Conditions may relate to the type of licences which could be granted in parts of the declared area, or condition the specified kinds of offshore infrastructure activities (such as specifying it is suitable for wind energy as compared to tidal or solar energy).
The environmental approvals guidance document has now been finalised following consultation in June. More guidance documents are expected to be released over coming months.
Interested parties should prepare submissions as part of the offshore area consultation process. There is no guarantee that all of the proposed area will be declared, so submissions specifying merits of certain areas should be made.
Proponents should consider collating the information required for feasibility licence applications in preparation of an area being declared. The proposed Gippsland declared area shows an area ‘to be avoided under the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006. That area is still proposed to be within the declared area, but marked as to be avoided. As oil and gas infrastructure in that area is decommissioned in the future, the area may open up for renewable infrastructure. NOPSEMA has also released Esso’s proposal for decommissioning its Gippsland Basin assets. Public comment is available on decommissioning until 31 August. It may be part of that infrastructure could be repurposed for the OSW industry.
It is important to have input on the proposed declared areas, particularly noting that while there is the ability for the declaration to varied in the future, there is no merits review available for the declaration made by the Minister.
If you have any queries about the declared area process or would like assistance in preparing a submission please contact us.
 Pursuant to the 1 July 2022 Commonwealth Administrative Arrangements Order, the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water is now responsible for the administration of the OEI Act <link>.