The first offshore windfarm proposed for Australian waters has much going for it in terms of wind resource, water depth, existing infrastructure and job creation and has been well received by potential investors
A lawyer for 20 years, Andy Evans, managing director of Offshore Energy in Australia, first worked on renewable energy projects in 2006. The company was established in 2012 to investigate and develop potential offshore renewable energy projects off the coast of Australia, the most important example of which currently is the Star of the South offshore windfarm off the coast of Gippsland in the state of Victoria. A preliminary planning and environmental study has already been undertaken by WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff, and the company is currently in what it anticipates will be a three-year feasibility study phase. If that goes according to plan, Offshore Energy could start the first phase of the proposed 2 GW project in or around 2022.
Speaking exclusively to OWJ, Mr Evans said the Star of the South project could have an investment value of approximately A$8Bn (US$6.2Bn), including potentially half local content, and generate approximately 12,000 direct and indirect jobs during the construction phase and 300 ongoing jobs. Another important advantage of the plan is that the windfarm would connect to existing infrastructure in the Latrobe Valley. If built, it will be connected via 95 km of subsea and underground high voltage transmission cables (four cables each of 500 MW capacity) to a connection point on the Victorian grid.
At the moment, the plan is that the windfarm will use around 250 turbines, each of 8 MW, but with ever-larger turbines being developed, the capacity of the turbines – and ultimately of the windfarm – could increase by the time it is actually built. Mr Evans said 12 MW turbines might well be available by the time an investment decision is made. Building and connecting the offshore windfarm would require the upgrade and expansion of existing nearby port facilities to enable construction and operation and maintenance operations and construction of at least two offshore substations and a network of cables to connect the turbines.
“We anticipate that we can deliver approximately 8,000 GWh of electricity per year, which is approximately 18% of Victoria’s power usage,” he told OWJ, noting that, although turbines would almost certainly be imported and installed by international vessel owners, there was every reason to think that foundations could be manufactured locally. “We have a string of steel works in the area,” he noted. There is extensive Australian oil and gas infrastructure and expertise on which to draw in the Bass Strait.
The project, which Mr Evans anticipates would be built in phases, probably in the order of 500 MW each or maybe a little more in the first phase, would not be eligible for subsidies of the type that helped kick-start the offshore wind energy industry in Europe, but he is confident that, even on current cost, offshore wind provides a new and exciting option for Australia’s energy capacity and security. “We expect technology and installation costs to continue to come down,” he said.
Offshore Energy has held discussions with local and international investors with experience in offshore wind development, and Mr Evans believes that the project has the potential to play a major role in transitioning the Gippsland economy, place downward pressure on wholesale electricity prices and improve power system security and reliability. “Our project provides an opportunity for Australia to meet a number of energy security, economic and environmental objectives and, importantly, creates large and sustainable opportunities for the local community,” he explained. “It’s been really well received by the financial sector in Europe.”
Looking further ahead, Mr Evans said there are three or four other sites offshore Victoria that could well host offshore windfarms, although the Southern Star one is “by far the best of them”.