Star of the South to prepare formal environmental impact study

In: Windfarms

Australia's first offshore wind farm has received confirmation that it will need to prepare an Environment Effects Statement (EES) as part of its planning procedure.

The S
tar of the South project is being developed by Australian headquartered Offshore Energy and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners (CIP) and represents a potential AU$8bn (€5bn) investment. The project area is located 10-25 km off the south coast of Gippsland, Victoria and could consist of up to 400 turbines on grounded foundations with an overall capacity exceeding 2 GW. The project will also feature offshore substation platforms, up to 13 buried AC export cables with landfall at Reeves Beach and/or McGaurans Beach, onshore cabling and up to four substations connecting the windfarm to the National Electricity Market.

Modifications to existing ports and harbours will also be required, to support project construction and operations. These ports could include: Port of Hastings, Barry Beach Marine Terminal (BBMT), and Port Anthony.

Earlier this year, developers took the first step in the assessment process, referring the project to the Victorian Minister for Planning to consider an Environment Effects Statement (EES) and to the Federal Minister for the Environment under the Environment Protection and Biosecurity Conservation Act (EPBC).

Following a consultation on referral documents, the Minister for Planning has decided that an EES is required for the Star of the South Offshore Wind Farm on the grounds that the project could have significant effects on native vegetation, habitat of terrestrial and aquatic species, water environments, Aboriginal cultural heritage, the local and regional socioeconomic environment and landscape values.

An EES is warranted to provide an integrated, robust and transparent process to assess the project’s effects and associated uncertainties, and to evaluate the effectiveness of the proposed avoidance, minimisation, mitigation and offsetting measures, prior to any statutory approval decisions.

The project will now enter the scoping phase, to iron out the content of the EES. The developer will undertake studies and prepare a final report for approval from the government. The developers are to prepare a consultation plan for informing the public and consulting with stakeholders during the preparation of the EES. The environmental assessment process is expected to take around two years.

An exploration license was granted last year and site investigations commenced in November 2019. Seabed geophysical investigations and onshore soil testing have been completed. Ongoing studies include:

- Wind and wave monitoring
- Marine mammal sound monitoring
- Bird tagging
- Onshore fauna surveys for native animals and birds
- Visual and digital surveys for marine mammals and birds

This week, a
Star of the South community consultation also concluded. The public were asked to provide feedback on a range of topics including:
- Options for the project's transmission corridor. Currently, there are three transmission routes under consideration and a final decision is expected by the end of the year.
- Fishing and offshore wind
- Ongoing site investigations

Methods of consulting and communicating with the public

The developers are currently reviewing all comments to inform key project decisions. A report outlining the responses and how the feedback will be used is due to be published. The developers will continue to to seek community input as they continue investigating and planning for the project. They are also seeking expressions of interest from locals to join a Community Advisory Group.

It is expected that the project will need a number of approvals from various government bodies. These include approval under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), Planning approval under the Victorian Planning and Environment Act 1987, a marine and coastal consent under the Victorian Marine and Coastal Act 2019 as well as a cultural heritage management plan under the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006. The developers will also need a commercial licence to construct and operate the project. Other approvals and consents may also be  identified through the assessment process and in consultation with regulatory agencies. The Commonwealth Government is currently working on a new regulatory framework for the development of offshore renewable energy projects.

If approved,
Star of the South is expected to have the potential to generate up to 20% of Victoria’s electricity needs and would feed power into the national grid via an underground cable to the Latrobe Valley.

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