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Council submits response to the Federal Government’s Offshore Renewable Energy Infrastructure Area Proposal

Council submits response to the Federal Government’s Offshore Renewable Energy Infrastructure Area Proposal

Friday 7 October 2022

Department of Industry, Science and Resources Australian Government

Submission - Response to the Federal Government’s announcement that Gippsland will be the first site in Australia to be formally examined as a new offshore renewable energy infrastructure area.

Bass Coast Shire Council (Council) welcomes the Federal Government commitment to renewable energy with announcement that Gippsland will be the first site in Australia to be formally examined as a new offshore renewable energy infrastructure area. In 2019 Council, in consultation with our community, declared a climate emergency and developed a Climate Change Action Plan, pursuing a community target of zero net emissions by 2030.

Council actively supports the transition to renewable energy and accepts that when it comes to wind power, the Victorian coastline has significant potential. The coastlines of Bass Coast, South Gippsland, Wellington, and East Gippsland Shires provide strong, consistent winds, proximity to electricity markets as well as connection to the existing grid and associated industry.

At this stage there is only high-level detail provided regarding location, consequently Council’s response should be considered within this context. Whilst offering in principle support, Bass Coast expresses the following concerns for the Gippsland Off-Shore renewable energy infrastructure area;

• the proposed area identified is extensive and given the size of current and possible future turbines, too close to the shore,

• the proposed area would have a significant impact on several nationally iconic views including the globally recognised Phillip Island Penguin Parade,

• the area is an environmentally vulnerable and sensitive marine environment,

• the impact on whale migration, the iconic penguin parade and mass shearwater migration requires independent investigation,

• the aggregated impact of multiple environmental issues would affect the visitor economy of the region,

• Local Government has limited resources to effectively play its role in the planning and approval of projects,

• Developing new industries such as off-shore wind in Australia will generate significant opportunities for economic prosperity in region and careful consideration and planning is required to maximise local participation and benefit while mitigating negative impacts,

• consideration of construction and servicing infrastructure particularly waterside is required when determining most appropriate areas,

• there is no detail regarding onshore location of works including the need for underground transmission and project consolidation of shared infrastructure and easements.

These concerns are consistent with multiple Council strategies developed in partnership with our community over the last five years.

Bass Coast is fortunate to have a unique and precious natural landscape, and we are grateful to the Victorian Government for declaring Bass Coast a Distinctive Area and Landscape. The entire Westernport region forms a critical part of our unique environment, supported by the international recognition under the RAMSAT Convention on Wetlands of International Importance in 1982. It is also recognised as a UNESCO biosphere reserve, due to the instance of threatened species, ecological communities and migratory species. These elements should be the starting point for any consideration of off-shore renewable energy industries.

In Bass Coast our environment is our economy. This statement reflects the inextricable link between the community and visitor experience and the natural world. The Phillip Island region is the second most dependent economy on tourism in Australia after Uluru.

We encourage Commonwealth, State and Local governments to work collaboratively to streamline the approval process for such applications. Since the recent announcement by the Federal Government, Council has been approached by several potential offshore wind proponents. Council is concerned about how it will be able to contribute effectively to any approval processes which includes Commonwealth approval, State (EES) approval, and local land use planning approval,all of which will require significant resourcing.

Council would welcome the opportunity to directly discuss how the approval process may be structured to reduce the burden on our community and enable us to effectively review and comment on the numerous applications we are likely to receive.

Finally, given the limited information in the current Notice to Declare an Area proposal, it is difficult for Council and the Bass Coast community to form a final position on this matter. We would encourage the Federal and State governments to continue to engage collaboratively and in a coordinated approach to avoid engagement fatigue, given the number of potential applications Council is aware of.

Council and the community are passionate about protecting our unique environment. We would like to emphasise that Bass Coast is supportive of the transition to renewable energy and the considerable benefits it may bring, however it cannot be at the expense of our environment.