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BlueFloat pulls Illawarra wind farm plans submitted before offshore zone declared

An international energy company that began the environmental approval process for a wind farm off the New South Wales South Coast before the area was designated for that purpose has withdrawn its submission.

A total of two offshore wind zones have been confirmed for Australia — one in the NSW Hunter region and the other in Gippsland, Victoria.

There are four other regions being considered for renewable infrastructure, including the Illawarra, where the public consultation process is underway and will run until November 15.

On Friday, BlueFloat Energy referred its South Pacific Offshore Wind Project to the office of Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek.

Ms Plibersek will determine whether project will be assessed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.

This morning Energy Minister Chris Bowen told ABC Illawarra Breakfast he was unaware that BlueFloat Energy had lodged its plans before he had gazetted the region as an offshore wind zone.

“I can completely understand why people might be saying, ‘Well, hang on a second — what is going on here?” he said.

“An offshore wind farm can only go in if I declare a zone, if I issue a feasibility licence and then a commercial licence, and if it gets environmental approvals.”

Mr Bowen said BlueFloat was entitled to seek approval under the EPBC Act before a zone was declared, but there were no guarantees its plans would align with the final zone.

“Where they are proposing may or may not be inside the zone that I eventually declare,” Mr Bowen said.

“If it is not, sorry, bad luck to them — you’ve wasted your money.”

Chris Bowen says companies are taking a risk if they proceed with plans before zones are declared.(ABC Illawawrra: Timothy Fernandez)

Delay requested

Hours after the Mr Bowen made the comments BlueFloat Energy country manager Nicholas Sankey confirmed that the company had withdrawn its submission.

Mr Sankey said the decision was made after conversations with the federal government.

“BlueFloat Energy has reconsidered the timing of lodging the EPBC Act referral and at this point in time we have requested this to be delayed,” he said.

“We will await the formal declaration of the zone by the government, should that occur, and reconsider the timing moving forward with the environmental approval process at that point in time.”

The Spanish energy company is planning to build offshore wind farms in South Australia, Victoria and NSW.

The company revised the proposed area for its Illawarra wind farm after hosting community sessions a month before the federal government officially opened up the public consultation process.

In its submission, BlueFloat confirmed its South Pacific wind farm would cover a 359-square-metre area between Shellharbour and Clifton.

It would consist of 105 turbines located 14-30 kilometres off the Illawarra coastline.

The turbine rotors would have a diameter of up to 275m and feed into three offshore substations.

It identified three possible routes where transmission cables could come ashore, including Port Kembla, under Lake Illawarra and through Killalea Regional Park.

A map showing the proposed location of a wind farm off the NSW coast.

BlueFloat Energy is the first company to publish plans for an offshore wind farm off the Illawarra coast.(Supplied: BlueFloat Energy)

‘Jumped the gun’

Amid an increasingly divisive debate about offshore wind, Illawarra community groups have been united in criticising the timing of BlueFloat submitting its referral.

In a statement, pro-wind farm community group Good for the Gong said it was disappointed BlueFloat Energy had apparently “jumped the gun” in filing a referral to the Environment Minister.

“Submitting plans and proposals at such an early stage undermines the necessary community consultation processes, which are underway,” the group said.

“This runs the risk of damaging support for the energy transition in our region.”

Micheal McKeogh from the Illawarra Coalition Against Offshore Wind said BlueFloat’s plan was “not an appropriate installation at all for the Illawarra” and criticised the 10-day window for public feedback on BlueFloat’s plans.

“We have hundreds and hundreds of pages of documents to read — detailed environmental studies, and we are expected to respond to that in 10 days,” Mr McKeogh said.

A dark-haired woman stands speaking at a lectern.

Cunningham MP Alison Byrnes says she has been inundated with calls following reports about the EPBC application.(ABC Illawarra: Tim Fernandez)

Cunningham MP Alison Byrnes said her office had been inundated with concerns from constituents.

“It has caused a lot of confusion out there,” she said.

“It is a bit difficult for people to understand how [BlueFloat] can put in a proposal through the EPBC Act without actually having a declared zone.”

Ms Byrnes said an environmental impact assessment would be carried out once BlueFloat’s plans were resubmitted.

“Any of the proposals that could proceed absolutely need to meet strict environmental considerations through the EPBC, as well as Minister Bowen’s licensing process,” she said.

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https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-11-07/bluefloat-illawarra-wind-farm-plans-withdrawn/103074274 BlueFloat pulls Illawarra wind farm plans submitted before offshore zone declared

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