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Testing begins for first offshore wind farm in Australia

Scientific testing begins this month for Australia’s first proposed offshore wind farm, near Gippsland, which could provide enough power for more than 1.2 million homes.

The testing comes as the union movement launches a campaign to lobby the state and federal governments to smooth the way for the project to proceed.

The Star of the South wind farm is expected to provide up to 2000 megawatts of power − about 18 per cent of the state’s power demand − and is set to cost between $8 billion and $10 billion.

Within weeks, the company will begin detailed studies of the wind and wave conditions at the 496-square-kilometre area off the south coast of Gippsland. It will also conduct environmental studies on marine and bird life.

If considered feasible, the wind farm is slated to provide “full power” by 2027.

Unions hope the wind farm will provide secure jobs for electricity workers in the Latrobe Valley, where the economy has relied heavily on coal-fired power generation.

The Latrobe Valley was hit hard by the closure of the Hazelwood power plant in 2017, and remaining coal-fired power plants are scheduled to begin closing in coming decades.

The broader region is bracing for more job losses with the state government phasing out native timber logging by 2030, sparking a furious response from the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union.

Previous estimates indicated the Star of the South wind farm could include 250 turbines but that is yet to be determined. Its proposed site is between 10 kilometres and 25 kilometres from Port Albert.

Last week a group of unions and Victorian Trades Hall Council launched a report calling for a “direct transition” to help redeploy workers in fossil fuel industries to jobs at Star of the South.

They want the commonwealth to establish a “transition authority” and a master plan to develop offshore renewable energy.

Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary Luke Hilakari said political leadership was required to ensure workers and communities relying on fossil fuels were not discarded on the “scrap heap”.

“This transition must be managed in a way that ensures workers and their communities are put front and centre,” he said.

The union report suggests the wind farm could create 300 ongoing jobs and 2000 construction jobs.

The report was also produced by the maritime, electrical and manufacturing unions.

A Star of the South spokeswoman said winds were stronger and more reliable at sea, “providing stability into the grid at peak times”.

“We’re investigating what the Star of the South could mean for Gippsland and local industry, including how we could help reskill and invest in the local workforce to develop an offshore wind industry in Australia,” she said.

The company plans to use existing infrastructure in the Latrobe Valley to feed electricity into the grid. It has begun consultation with communities throughout Gippsland.

On Sunday, Premier Daniel Andrews said the project was still subject to environment effects processes and federal approvals. But he said supporters almost considered it a form of baseload power given the volume of wind at sea.

“That could be firmed up with some battery technology onshore,” he said. “There’d be significant maintenance jobs.”

Federal Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor said the need for an offshore energy infrastructure development framework was an emerging issue.

“A future regulatory framework for offshore energy infrastructure will have to accommodate transmission, generation and other ocean-user concerns,” he said.

The Victorian government has set a renewable energy target of 50 per cent by 2030.

The Yallourn power station is due to begin shutting down from 2029. It provides about a fifth of Victoria’s electricity. Loy Yang B is set to close from 2047 and Loy Yang A is set to run until 2048 although some doubts have been raised about whether generators will reach their scheduled closure dates.

Source: The Age

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