Star of the South chief executive Casper Frost Thorhauge said the project would offer regional job opportunities and be an asset to the state in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We believe we can come in and solve some of these problems and be part of a green recovery,” Mr Frost Thorhauge said.
The proposed location was chosen to capitalise on Bass Strait’s powerful winds, suitable soil and water conditions and its proximity to the Latrobe Valley, which is one of the strongest connection points to the National Electricity Market distribution grid.
“We are really excited to harvest a new resource, not only for Australia but also especially for Gippsland,” Mr Frost Thorhauge said. “The long tradition of power generation in the Latrobe Valley and Gippsland region will be maintained.”
Wind turbines produce no carbon emissions and wind is one of the least greenhouse gas-intensive energy sources, even taking into account life-cycle emissions from other energy sources used in development.
The project is backed by Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, a fund management company in energy infrastructure, particularly renewables.
Geoff Dyke, the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining And Energy Union’s mining and energy division secretary, said the union movement broadly supported the project but his division held grave concerns.
He said the wind farm would create jobs but would not replace those lost through the closure of coal mines. “It does nothing for the jobs that are in the Latrobe Valley,” Mr Dyke said.
The turbines are likely to range in height from 185 metres to 245 metres and will probably use foundations that are driven into the seabed.
Star of the South is working with the Commonwealth government on a national legal framework for offshore wind that would pave the way for the project.
Some community members are worried about the impact of wind turbines on migratory bird paths. Mr Frost Thorhauge said the company was collecting data on bird life and this would be included in any environmental assessment.
In March, the company started mapping the seabed, and has deployed boats and planes to establish which marine animals are present.
Daniel Ierodiaconou, an associate professor in marine science at Deakin University, has been doing fish diversity surveys through a partnership between the university and the environmental consultancy undertaking Star of the South’s exploratory work.
About 130 baited remote underwater video stations have been dropped from a boat and left underwater for an hour to document the species that come to feed, he said. From the video, scientists have been able to identify 6000 individual fish across about 70 species.
In effect, the project might actually create artificial reefs, Mr Ierodiaconou said. “They’d be putting structures out there that are likely to generate different fish communities, like some of the existing oil and gas sector infrastructure in the Bass Strait,” he said.
“When a project of this size is touted, people speculate”
Michael Hobson, Port Albert resident
The wind farm’s closest point to the coast would be about 7 kilometres (the furthest about 25 kilometres), and it would be visible from the shore.
Port Albert fisherman and restaurateur Michael Hobson said he wanted to see the results of the company’s studies on marine and bird life before deciding whether he supported the project.
Opinion was divided in the town of about 300 people, he said. While the economic benefits would be welcome, there were some concerns about the impact on the environment and the fishing industry.
Some people whose livelihoods depended on the local fishing industry were worried that the project might disturb the migratory paths of fish species, he said.
Mr Hobson, whose family has lived in Port Albert for six generations since 1846, noted plans for the project had resulted in higher demand for local properties.
“When a project of this size is touted, people speculate,” he said. “I think more property has changed hands here in the last six months than there has in the past six years.”
Offshore wind is a rapidly growing industry. In the past two years, Danish offshore wind developer Orsted has doubled its value on the Copenhagen stock exchange, and is now worth more than oil giant BP.
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Miki Perkins is a senior journalist and Environment Reporter at The Age.
Benjamin is The Age’s regional editor. He was previously state rounds reporter and has also covered education for The Age.