Council to lobby for best offshore wind outcome

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Council will continue to advocate for the best possible outcome for Warrnambool in relation to the offshore renewable energy zone declared by the Federal Government.

“Council is in favour of renewable energy but this proposal is a profoundly challenging one because it enters the marine environment that is treasured and valued by our community,” Warrnambool Mayor Cr Ben Blain said.

A 1,000sqkm offshore wind farm zone was announced by the Federal Government last week and comes within 15km to 20km of the Warrnambool/Port Fairy coast line.

“Although this is a Federal Government decision and a planning matter over which Council has no statutory power, Council will continue to engage with the Australian Government to ensure the best possible outcome for the Warrnambool community.

“But we need to be clear about this: it is a Federal Government decision on a federal planning issue.

“We’re aware a community meeting has been called on March 23 where the Warrnambool community will be asked about the available options.

“And while this is no time to be complacent, it is also not helpful to give people the impression that the declaration will be reversed or rescinded.

“We understand the emotions stirred up by the declaration – we feel them too - but we’ve got to be really fact-driven in our discussions with the Australian Government.

“Approaching this federal matter with a simple referendum-style “do we want it or not” binary approach will not achieve the best outcome for Warrnambool.”

The Federal Government ran a community engagement process in August last year attended by Council Chief Executive Officer Andrew Mason and several Councillors.

Council followed up with a letter to Minister for Climate Change and Energy, the Hon Chris Bowen MP, which stated that the proposed off-shore wind zone should not be located in proximity to Warrnambool on the following grounds:

1. Logan’s Beach is a recognised whale nursery for the endangered (EPBC Act) Southern Right Whale Eubalaena australis and as such we believe that a precautionary approach should be taken to protect the marine environment.

2. Visual impacts – tourism is a significant component of the economy of Warrnambool. Much of the appeal of Warrnambool is its coastal location, safe beaches and views from locations such as Flagstaff Hill and Logan’s Beach. We note that there has been little analysis or information presented in relation to the visual impacts of off shore wind energy to support the proposed zone.

3. Council has previously opposed the use of seismic testing for the exploration of gas and oil. We would request that the seismic testing be prohibited for off shore wind projects in the proposed zone.

4. The experience in South West Victoria with on shore wind farms has been that transmission infrastructure can have significant visual amenity impacts. We believe that all transmission infrastructure must be located underground.

Cr Blain said the four core reasons remained relevant and the Council would continue to engage with the Australian and Victorian governments.

“In his letter of acknowledgement to Council, Minister Bowen stated that the declaration would be the start of the assessment process, after which offshore wind farm developers would be able to apply for feasibility licences to undertake research and further studies to inform appropriate offshore wind farm projects,” Cr Blain said.

Minister Bowen also advised that:

“If a developer is granted a feasibility licence, they must undertake detailed assessments of their proposed wind farm’s impacts on marine users and the environment, and have their project approved under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).”

“Council is conscious that this is a nuanced issue and we believe many in the community do not view this as a simple yes/no equation,” Cr Blain said.

“We’ve yet to see the summary of community engagement released by the Federal Government but it’s worth noting that in Gippsland there were a range of responses with about a third against the proposal, 20 per cent for it and another third conditionally supportive.”

The Gippsland offshore wind farm zone was declared in 2022, covers an area of 15,000sqkm and comes within about 10km of the coast.