Policy must help Gippsland benefit from energy transition

Gippsland can benefit from the coming energy transition including from offshore wind and hydrogen developments, but only if the right policy settings are in place.

The Nationals Member for Gippsland South, Danny O’Brien has outlined a suite of recommendations to ensure that coming changes in the energy sector, especially with respect to offshore wind, actually provide some benefits to Gippsland.

Mr O’Brien has included the recommendations in a report to Parliament after undertaking recent travel to Europe to better understand the offshore wind industry.

The Nationals Member for Gippsland South, Danny O’Brien, says policy settings must be right for Gippsland to benefit from offshore wind developments.

“Whether we like it or not, it appears there is going to be a significant offshore wind industry off the Gippsland Coast, but there is a risk that the benefits of these developments could pass us by and Gippsland only experience the negatives like transmission lines,” Mr O’Brien said.

“Having seen how the offshore wind industry operates in the UK and Denmark, I am optimistic that there are offshore job opportunities for our region, but only if the government gets policy right.

“This is a port-based industry, and the State Government must encourage the development of Barry Beach Marine Terminal in South Gippsland to be used as both an operations and maintenance base and potentially for construction activity if we are to reap the benefits.

“Without utilising a local port, we will see the activity happening off our coast but will reap very few jobs or economic outcomes from the offshore wind sector.

“The fact the State Government has chosen to invest in a new port at Hastings suggests it doesn’t understand how Gippsland could miss out.”

Other recommendations in Mr O’Brien’s report include that state and federal government should actively pursue offshore wind component manufacturing facilities, that fishing and other marine users must be genuinely considered and a seabed HV/DC cable connection to the electricity grid should be investigated.

“There is significant concern from local land holders who would be impacted by a new transmission line through Gippsland.

“I understand the cost and technical challenges with going underground, but a seabed cable around Wilsons Prom and into Melbourne may well be an option and I urge the state government and developers to investigate it.”

Mr O’Brien is also backing the development of a Gippsland hydrogen and carbon capture and storage industry as well as improved outcomes from the creation of pit lake in Latrobe Valley coal mines. His report has been presented to Parliament this week.


Recommendations from Mr O’Brien’s report to Parliament:

1. Barry Beach Marine Terminal must be supported to become an operations and maintenance (O&M) base for the Gippsland offshore wind industry. 

Barry Beach is operated by the private sector. Government should assist with provision of supporting infrastructure including telecommunications, roads, workforce training and housing availability in the area.  As the only suitable port in the Gippsland area for OSW, if Barry Beach does not play a major role, there will be little benefit for Gippsland from the OSW sector.

2. The State Government should review its decision to not consider Barry Beach for OSW construction activity.

Development of Barry Beach can occur without significant taxpayer investment, is closer to the OSW zone and can ensure Gippsland captures benefits. While it does require significant dredging, there are dredging and other development and environmental requirements at Hastings that mean that, at the very least, both ports should be considered.  The Victorian Government must also justify the decision to focus on Hastings alone, reveal the full cost to taxpayers of new port development and outline a timeline for preparing ports for OSW projects that will align with developer construction schedules.

3. State and Federal Governments should actively pursue OSW manufacturing opportunities.

It would be too easy to say “we can’t get them here”.  The jobs and economic benefits of OSW will be limited if turbines are all imported and installed by overseas ships with international crews.   The big three original equipment manufacturers (OEM) in wind: Siemens Gamesa, Vestas and GE, should have a long-term pipeline of projects in Australia and the Asia-Pacific to make Gippsland, Victoria and Australia an attractive proposition for manufacturing facilities.

4. Fishing and other marine users must be genuinely considered, consulted and compensated (where relevant).

The commercial fishing industry must be consulted early in the development of OSW wind and OSWFs sited to minimise disruption to fishing grounds and other marine users such as oil and gas.  Compensation must be paid if other commercial activities are impacted and the Federal Government should enforce this if necessary.

5. The Federal Government should provide clear legislative or regulatory guidance on fishing access (commercial and recreational) within wind farms.

6. The State Government should investigate whether seabed HVDC cable connection to the electricity grid for Gippsland OSW is feasible.

VicGrid has been given the role of coordinating transmission lines to minimise a “spaghetti effect” of cables.  It should investigate whether it is feasible to establish an offshore connection point and seabed HVDC cable through Bass Strait into Melbourne, rather than across Gippsland farmland.

7. Federal, state and local governments should assist the coordination of community engagement on OSW in Gippsland.

There is a lot of activity in energy both onshore and offshore in Gippsland, particularly in the Wellington and South Gippsland shires.  Once feasibility licences have been awarded for Gippsland OSWFs, governments should work with local councils and developers to help coordinate community engagement, to avoid consultation fatigue from multiple developers holding repeat consultation sessions on virtually the same issues.

8. Developers should work with Esso in the longer term to consider whether the Longford heliport could be used for crew transport to service operations vessels (SOVs) for OSWFs.

While this is a commercial decision for the companies involved, such a move would be a genuine and symbolic move to aid the transition from current energy production to future energy production.

9. The State Government must back the Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain (HESC) project to stimulate the hydrogen industry in Gippsland.

The HESC project will ultimately proceed only on commercial terms, but the State Government must ensure it does not frustrate the project for political reasons.  While all planning and environmental approvals would of course need to run their course, the Government must ignore green hysteria over coal and back this project.  HESC has strong potential to give Gippsland the skills, technical knowledge, infrastructure and industry base for a future green hydrogen industry.  It is feasible in decades to come that OSW, when not needed in the grid, could power green hydrogen production for industrial, domestic and power generation purposes.  The attendant carbon capture and storage (CCS) project would also offer additional opportunities for new Gippsland industries.

10. The State Government should back any proposal to convert existing brown coal power stations, which would otherwise close, to biomass.

The Drax experience shows conversion to renewable biomass is eminently feasible for Latrobe Valley power stations.  Logistics changes such as port works and rail lines will be necessary.  A biomass conversion of an existing coal fired power station would maintain and expand Gippsland jobs and, crucially, provide base load power to the grid to help manage the intermittency of wind and solar.

11. The State Government must set objectives for Latrobe Valley mine rehabilitation beyond just achieving a “safe, stable and sustainable” landform to include long-term benefits from pit lakes such as agricultural, horticultural, industrial, tourism and residential developments.

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