Australian Gov’t Rejects Port of Hastings Wind Terminal Project, Tasmanian Gov’t Proposes Port of Bell Bay

Australian Minister for the Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek, has rejected the application for the Victorian Renewable Energy Terminal submitted by the Port of Hastings Corporation, which plans to establish the terminal at the Old Tyabb Reclamation Area (OTRA), located within an existing port zone.

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The proposed terminal is planned to serve as an installation port for offshore wind projects in the area and is said to be capable of supporting up to 1 GW of offshore wind deployment per year.

The area of the Port of Hastings identified for the terminal, the Old Tyabb Reclamation Area (OTRA), is located within the port precinct between Esso’s Long Island Point and BlueScope Steel. The development would see the OTRA site transformed into a multiuser facility with new landside infrastructure and berths adjacent to the existing shipping channel, according to the Port.

Port of Hastings Corporation, Victorian Renewable Energy Terminal EES referral; Visual Representation of Potential Site Layout

Victorian Renewable Energy Terminal is also the preferred port of Australia’s first offshore wind project, Star of the South, for major construction works.

The state-owned Port of Hastings Corporation filed the application with both Victoria’s state government and the federal government in 2023.

Victoria State Government Requested Environment Effects Statement (EES) in October 2023

In October 2023, Victoria State’s Minister for Planning decided that an environment effects statement (EES) was required for the project.

In the statement detailing the reasons for the decision, the state’s Planning Minister Sonya Kilkenny noted that the project had “the potential for significant environmental effects on biodiversity values” and risks to the conservation and ecological values of the Western Port Ramsar Wetland (WPRW). The Minister for Planning also listed other potential impacts, including those on the marine ecosystem from construction activities such as dredging.

The state requested the Port of Hastings submit a draft EES study programme to inform the preparation of scoping requirements that would then be put up for public consultation before the Planning Ministry issues the final scope for the project’s required EES.

According to Victoria’s state government, the EES will also include proposed alternatives and mitigation measures, and opportunities to minimise significant adverse effects through layout, design, construction methods, etc.

In September 2023, while the state application was being reviewed, the Port of Hastings Corporation issued a press release saying that it expected the Minister to request an EES.

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The port operator also said that it had already commenced some environmental monitoring which will inform the preparation of the EES. These studies, along with others to be undertaken following receipt of the scoping requirements, will support the planning and approvals process and the detailed design of the Victorian Renewable Energy Terminal.

It is worth noting that the process on the state level is separate from that on the federal level and it is still in progress with the work on the EES underway.

Federal Government Rejects Terminal Application, Says Some Impacts Cannot Be Mitigated

The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW) received the application at the end of July 2023 and the Environment Minister issued a decision on 18 December, with the documents made publically available at the beginning of January 2024.

The Minister designated the application as “clearly unacceptable” under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999.

In the Statement of Reasons, the federal Environment Minister notes that the application itself identifies that the proposed action is likely to have significant impacts on Ramsar wetlands, threatened species and ecological communities, and migratory species, as per Australian Matters of National Environmental Significance.

In the document, the Minister also acknowledges the application’s description of the project being in the early stages and that a detailed project description and construction activities are not currently available, as well as that the area for off-site impacts is unable to be properly defined at this time.

However, according to the Statement of Reasons, the information that was provided in the application was sufficient to determine the project’s impacts on Matters of National Environmental Significance.

“Although detailed project specification and/or environmental assessment has not been undertaken, I note and accept the advice from the department’s Wetlands Section Line Area, that the information provided is sufficient to conclude that the scale and nature of the proposed action and its attendant risks is such that adverse impacts on the ecological character of the WPRW would be unavoidable. I also agree with the department’s view that the impacts on the ecological character of the WPRW will not be able to be mitigated or offset,” Minister Plibersek states in the document.

Victorian PM Says Environmental Impact Can Be Mitigated; Tasmanian Government Proposes Port of Bell Bay

Australian media reports that, following the official decision from the Environment Minister, Victorian Prime Minister Jacinta Allen announced a potential revision to get the project back on track at the federal level.

According to Mike Foley from The Sydney Morning Herald, Prime Minister Allen voiced confidence in mitigation measures for the terminal project and said the state government would review the decision and go back to the federal government.

Meanwhile, Tasmania’s Minister for Energy and Renewables, Nick Duigan, issued a press release on 9 January, saying the Port of Bell Bay, a deepwater port located in the north of the state, would be an ideal option to service construction and maintenance of offshore wind farms in the Bass Strait.

“Tasmania is already the nation’s renewable energy leader, and we are forging ahead with our plans to continue to position our state as a clean energy powerhouse,” Minister Duigan said. “Bell Bay is an outstanding location for this type of infrastructure.”

“The Bell Bay Advanced Manufacturing Zone is already an important industrial driver for the state and is very much at the forefront of our renewable energy plans, including the development of a world-leading green hydrogen industry,” Nick Duigan said.

The Tasmanian port is also among the five ports that the Star of the South offshore wind farm developer shortlisted as having the capabilities to support offshore wind projects.

In August last year, after a year-long analysis of port options, Star of the South pinpointed five ports, three of which have been identified as deepwater ports that could accommodate large offshore wind installation vessels. Of the three installation ports, the Victorian Renewable Energy Terminal at Port of Hastings is seen as the frontrunner to support major construction needs, while Geelong Port and the Port of Bell Bay are also expected to play a role.

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The port(s) that will be suitable to accommodate offshore wind activities in the area would not serve only the 2 GW Star of the South offshore wind farm as there are several offshore wind farms already moving through the state and federal systems in Victoria, and more would be coming up in the surrounding states.

Just in December 2023, Australia’s Minister for Climate Change and Energy made preliminary decisions on the granting of feasibility licences for offshore wind projects in Commonwealth waters off the Gippsland region in Victoria. 

Of the 37 feasibility licence applications at the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW), six are under preliminary consideration for the granting of feasibility licences and have begun the next stage of consultation with First Nation groups and further six applications are under preliminary consideration to progress through an overlapping application process.

If all six proposed projects under preliminary consideration for a licence were to proceed through proving feasibility to commercialisation, they would have a combined generation capacity of 12 GW. This would increase further if the other six applications were able to resolve their overlap and proceed to commercialisation.

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The State of Victoria aims to reach 2 GW of offshore generation by 2032, 4 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2035, and 9 GW by 2040.

In December, Victorian Energy and Resources Minister Lily D’Ambrosio issued the Offshore Wind Implementation Statement 3, which outlines the parameters for the proposed support package for the first tranche of offshore wind projects in the state that will be run through a competitive auction process to be rolled out in 2025 with contracts awarded in 2026.

Among other things, the state’s third Offshore Wind Implementation Statement also considers the potential to support and facilitate the establishment of the offshore wind industry at several ports, in addition to the Victorian Renewable Energy Terminal at the Port of Hastings.

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