Offshore wind laws to power transition

·3-min read

Offshore wind can join Australia's arsenal of renewable energy projects under new laws that passed the federal parliament on Thursday.

The package of offshore electricity infrastructure bills follow years of advocacy from offshore wind pioneers, and pressure from state governments to harness the technology.

It also comes as developers chase the green dollar.

New energy think tank Beyond Zero Emissions said every job created in offshore wind creates another eight onshore jobs.

"Offshore wind will help reindustrialise Australia by providing the energy needed to turbocharge regional manufacturing, producing green steel and aluminium, hydrogen and ammonia, and batteries and critical minerals," head of policy and research Tom Quinn said.

BZE modelling shows Renewable Energy Industrial Precincts across Australia could generate $333 billion in green exports by 2050.

The three bills establish the regulatory framework around electricity infrastructure projects in Commonwealth waters, including federal licensing of new projects.

The laws bring in a "sensible regime", analyst Tim Buckley at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis told AAP.

But he remains concerned that offshore wind is a lot more expensive that onshore wind.

"I am a strong advocate for onshore wind because at the end of the day the consumer has to pay the bill," he said.

The Electrical Trades Union and Maritime Union of Australia welcomed what they say are "long overdue laws".

They want federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor to make a Gippsland Offshore Wind Zone his highest priority.

The Victorian government this week gave $40 million to support three projects, including the well-advanced Star of the South offshore wind project off the Gippsland coast, as the state moves to halve its emissions by 2030.

"Star of the South, the Gippsland and Latrobe Valley communities, and maritime and electrical workers have already waited years for the government to get this legislation in place," MUA Assistant National Secretary Adrian Evans said.

The Australian Energy Market Operator has targeted four regions as offshore wind zones - northwest Tasmania, Gippsland, Illawarra and Newcastle - which could each produce 10 gigawatts of power.

The Australian Conservation Foundation said offshore wind projects could help the transition to a cleaner economy for communities that have been dependent on coal, including Victoria's Latrobe Valley and NSW's Hunter Valley.

Offshore wind could also help an early closure of Victoria's fragile Yallourn coal power plant, which supplies nearly a quarter of the state's electricity.

Tasmania's roaring 40s also has some of the best winds in the world, and the state is rich in hydro power.

The proposed undersea Marinus Link, also covered by the new laws, will connect the "battery of the nation" to the mainland's electricity grid and help to decarbonise the economy.

Sun Cable's proposed 3750-kilometre cable to take renewable solar energy from northern Australia to Singapore is also covered by the new legislative framework.

Mr Taylor said passage of the laws would accelerate a number of key proposals already under development, including the Star of the South, Sun Cable, and the Marinus Link transmission line.

"Importantly, this framework enables the development of these new energy projects while safeguarding the environment, securing the health and safety of workers and protecting other maritime stakeholders," he said.

Investment in offshore wind port terminals and manufacturing hubs, particularly in areas like Gippsland, the Illawarra and Newcastle could be next.

Rehabilitation also becomes a financial obligation under the new laws, despite resistance from developers who said it meant they would not have a level playing field with fossil fuel projects.

The new laws come as Woodside $16 billion Scarborough project supports gas exports for another 30 years.

"The government is now grappling with $60 billion or more of offshore oil and gas liabilities that we, the taxpayer, will probably end up wearing thanks to Woodside and their pals," IEEFA's Mr Buckley said.

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