3 October 2023

Community panel created for final consultation sessions on offshore energy plans with just weeks left to have your say

| Keeli Royle
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A map showing the proposed offshore energy zone from Wombarra to Kiama.

A map showing the proposed renewable energy zone off the Illawarra coast. Photo: DCCEEW.

Federal MP Alison Byrnes will host two town hall forums addressing the divisive offshore renewable energy plans set for the region.

The sessions will give the community the opportunity to air their concerns and ask their questions in the final weeks of the current consultation process.

After more than 1200 people attended multiple sessions held from Bulli to Gerringong throughout September, the Member for Cunningham has now assembled a new panel of industry, academic and community leaders to discuss the topic alongside Q&As with the Department of Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water.

Panelist and South Coast Labour Secretary Arthur Rorris said the sessions were a good opportunity to provide the community with accurate information.

“I think it’s important that we get some of the facts out rather than just the scare campaign allegations that seem to be doing the rounds,” he said. “I don’t think that is helpful to what is a very very important question for our region and frankly for the planet.”

The sessions will address plans to establish an offshore renewable energy zone off the Illawarra coast from Wombarra to Kiama for projects like the installation and use of wind turbines or any other renewable technology that is created in the future.

“The first and most important thing is there isn’t actually a proposal on the table for wind farms,” Mr Rorris said.

“What you have is the start of a process to do the studies and to do a proper analysis of what is possible, what is desirable and what is safe for our marine environment and our region.”

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It would aim to help the Australian Government meet its target of zero emissions by 2050 by generating year-round clean energy.

In a visit to the region earlier this year, Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen boasted its potential to boost the local economy and deliver up to 2500 jobs in construction and 1250 ongoing jobs.

“Offshore wind is energy-rich and jobs-rich but despite having some of the best wind resources in the world, Australia doesn’t currently have any offshore wind,” Minister Bowen said.

“This presents a huge economic opportunity for the regions that help power Australia – like the Illawarra, to continue to power our nation for generations to come.”

However, there have been some concerns raised within the local community about the scale of the project, with as many as 300 turbines possible, each up to 280 metres tall, and the impact these giant structures could have on whale migration and the region’s rich marine life.

And with only six drop-in sessions held, many are still not convinced.

“I don’t think that has been well understood by some people that have expressed concern in the community,” Mr Rorris said.

“If there are things that they want more information on, things that they want studied and checked out, this is actually what the process is actually about and I think that is where some of the confusion is.”

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Ahead of consultation closing on 16 October, the final town hall forums could be the last chance for people to have their say at this stage, even though there will be further opportunities in the future.

“Our community will be consulted – before any construction even commences there will be at least three more opportunities for the community to provide feedback,” Ms Byrnes said.

The panel will also feature Hi Neighbour founding director Yael Stone, University of Wollongong vice-chancellor’s research fellow Dr Jodi Edwards, Ty Christopher from the Energy Futures Network, and student Ellen Couch.

“The panel is made up of experts who live in our community and want to support local residents to understand some of the facts around offshore wind, and the technical and engineering response to the climate change challenge that impacts us all,” Ms Byrnes said.

“It provides an opportunity for community members to listen and put forward their views too on those issues from a more diverse range of stakeholders and speakers,” Mr Rorris said. “Everyone on that panel has expertise in different areas.”

Mr Rorris believed that the overall the community does care about doing what is best for the planet and if everyone keeps an open mind they can work through any concerns that arise on surrounding issues.

“If we start from that perspective then hopefully we can have a discussion on the environment aspects, the employment aspects, industry and hopefully what we leave for the next generation of Australians and in particular the next generation of workers and citizens in our community.”

The discussions will be held on Saturday 7 October at Thirroul Community Centre from 1 pm to 3 pm and Wednesday 11 October at the University of Wollongong from 4 pm to 6 pm.

To register for the events visit the Alison Byrnes MP website.

For more information about the project or to make a submission visit the DCCEEW website.

Submissions close on 16 October at 11:59 pm.

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