30 October 2023

Protest group rejects offshore wind zone proposal while youth movement calls for support

| River McCrossen
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Residents holding signs against the proposed wind energy zones.

Residents gathered at Flagstaff Hill to protest against the proposed wind energy zone. Photos: River McCrossen.

About 1000 people gathered in Wollongong on Sunday (29 October) to protest the proposed wind farm off the Illawarra coast, claiming it would ruin coastal views and harm marine life.

The Federal Government is proposing an offshore wind zone up to 30 km from the coast between the Royal National Park and Kiama, which it says would generate enough power for more than three million homes. The current proposal would cover 1461 square kilometres.

The protest was organised by the Coalition Against Offshore Wind (CAOW).

Trevor Castle was one of about 100 people who took part in a paddle-out after the rally at Flagstaff Hill to show their opposition to the zone.

“We ocean paddle on ocean skis and this coast is pristine, and there’s no way that I’m keen to see this kind of wind farm straight off our coastline,” he said.

“Because we ocean paddle a lot, we get to see the whales and everything else almost daily during the season, and I think it’ll have an adverse impact on the marine life and, in particular, the whale migration.

“I’m not against alternate energy, but I think they’ve [wind zone supporters] got to be a little more critical of what the outcomes of some of these changes are going to bring.”

READ ALSO The case against Illawarra wind energy: Too high a price to pay for desecration of ocean environment

The Illawarra is one of the government’s six priority areas for offshore wind, geared at Australia being net zero by 2050.

At times demonstrators chanted “bugger off, Bowen”, referring to Federal Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen, who spruiked the zone during a visit to Port Kembla in August.

Kiama MP Gareth Ward addressed the crowd and took aim at “Labor’s proposal to privatise our oceans”.

“It’s not acceptable. We deserve to have the facts on the table. We deserve to have information about whales and birds,” he said.

“It seems that the Labor Party and the government just simply want to roll this thing out without actually thinking about those impacts or being upfront.”

Lobster farmer Mark Horne said undersea electromagnetic cables associated with turbines make lobsters “bad swimmers”, citing a 2022 UK study.

‘The exposed lobsters were three times more likely to be deformed. The most common deformities found included bent and reduced tail sections,” he said, quoting the study.

Rally organiser and COAW committee member Amanda De Lore said she wasn’t getting enough information about the proposal.

“They want to rezone this without giving any of us scale drawings of what they look like, how it’s going to impact the land, where the structures are going,” she said.

This month, the government released visualisations of what the turbines could look like 10 km and 20 km out.

At Flagstaff Hill a few days earlier (27 October), supporters in favour of the proposal gathered.

Members of the Tomorrow Movement are calling on residents to “listen to the climate science, listen to their kids and grandkids and support the many benefits large scale clean energy can deliver for the Illawarra and our planet”.

The Tomorrow Movement is a grassroots group of young people fighting for a society with good jobs, great public services and a safe climate for all.

READ ALSO Why the Illawarra needs to embrace wind energy as the climate crisis worsens

Member Em Rogers said it had been disheartening to see misinformation about offshore wind being spread online and in the community.

“The reality is, the costs of climate change are far too great to delay the transition to net zero any further, and most local residents understand that,” Em said.

“We should absolutely be doing everything we can to make sure any offshore wind project includes thorough environmental protections, proper consultation and consent from First Nations communities, and real community benefit.”

The government extended the time for the community consultation process, with public submissions now closing on 15 November.

If the government declares the area a wind zone, applications will open for feasibility licences.

Licence holders will be asked to develop impact mitigation plans for the government to consider before giving projects the final green light.

For more information or to make a submission, visit the Department’s Illawarra consultation hub here.

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