New offshore wind zone declared off the Hunter-Central Coast NSW, but what does it mean for developers?

17 Jul 2023

After an extensive consultation process, the Federal Government has announced Australia’s second Declared Area for offshore wind development – in the Pacific Ocean adjacent to the Hunter-Central Coast onshore Renewable Energy Zone (REZ).

The area covers slightly more than 1,800 km2 of seabed and offshore waters at least 20 km from the coast, and extends northwards from Norah Head to Port Stephens.

Jeremy Fitzpatrick, RPS’ National Service Line Leader for Marine Science, says the declaration is well-timed as NSW pushes ahead with its energy transition and Australia continues to expand its offshore wind industry.

"With each declaration, we are strengthening the country’s capacity to develop the infrastructure and renewable energy sources needed to meet net zero targets."

Jeremy says the area off the Hunter Region will be a different prospect when compared to Australia’s only other Declared Area off Gippsland in Victoria, with specific considerations for developers including:

  • A reduced zone size in comparison to the Gippsland declared area (15,000 km2)
  • Much deeper water, ranging from 140 m to 1,000 m in depth and straddling the continental shelf slope, than the relatively flat seabed in 30 m to 80 m water depths in the Gippsland area. This will necessitate floating turbines rather than fixed-bottom turbines.
  • A different ecological setting to Gippsland, with different socio-economic and environmental sensitivities and survey challenges.

As offshore wind developers now seek to gain a detailed understanding of the area, develop solutions, and prepare for their Feasibility Licence applications, Jeremy adds there are further considerations.

"In the absence of established offshore energy infrastructure in NSW there is a paucity of existing environmental baseline data on which to base the necessary impact predictions and mitigation strategies. This means baseline studies will be required across the region."

He says the Declared Area also has restricted maximum blade tip heights of 260 metres, which will affect developers’ ability to plan for the international trend of increasing height for floating wind turbines.

"Tip height restrictions combined with the relatively limited area for development may make the task of preparing a commercially viable but attractive licence applications tricky for potential licence applicants.  

"RPS’ local expertise in the Hunter-Central Coast region and across New South Wales, along with our experience in Gippsland and mature offshore wind markets like the UK and US, means our environmental scientists and approvals specialists are ready to help developers navigate Feasibility Licence and state and Commonwealth regulatory processes for projects off the Hunter-Central Coast.

“We look forward to supporting potential applicants with our best-for-project approach to understanding site constraints, scoping and designing baseline studies – both onshore and offshore - and obtaining the necessary regulatory approvals to support investment decisions in NSW."

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