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Australia’s first offshore wind project confirms transmission route

01 April 2021 Bernadette Lee

Australia's first offshore wind project -- Star of the South -- has confirmed a transmission route, which would connect wind turbines off the south coast of the state of Victoria to the grid in the Latrobe Valley. This follows a rigorous 12-month assessment of three potential transmission routes, said Erin Coldham, chief development officer for Star of the South.

Star of the South has the potential to provide up to 2.2 GW of power, which could supply up to 18% of Victoria's electricity needs and power 1.2 million homes, Coldham said in a statement, adding that the project has the potential to provide thousands of jobs in construction and hundreds more in the rural Gippsland region of Victoria when operating.

"This is a project that could transform our energy supply into the future, creating a more reliable system and helping to prevent blackouts on hot days," she said.

The three transmission options under consideration were corridor A (western), corridor B (eastern), and corridor C (northern), and each corridor would connect to the same point in the Latrobe Valley.

Corridor B, the chosen transmission route, would come ashore around Reeves Beach and travel underground through Darriman, Giffard West, and Hiamdale, connecting into one of the strongest points in the National Electricity Market, according to a statement released by Star of the South 16 March.

Due consideration was given to a number of factors, including findings from engineering, environmental and heritage studies, feedback from landholders and local communities, cost of electricity, and advice from technical specialists, according to the developer.

An important aspect of the project is transporting the electricity generated offshore to the Latrobe Valley, which will be done using a transition network, substations, and underground cables, according to Coldham.

"This year the project team behind the Star of the South will focus on investigating and designing the transition network, with plans to use underground cables for most of the transition lines," she said.

The Latrobe Valley is now the focus of the Australian government in its development of a number of energy projects, including the Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain (HESC) pilot, an initiative of the Australian and Japanese governments, and Star of the South.

The HESC pilot involves developing a complete hydrogen supply chain, producing hydrogen gas from brown coal in the Latrobe Valley via a coal gasification and gas-refining process, transporting it to the Port of Hastings for liquefaction, and exporting the liquefied hydrogen to Japan.

The Latrobe Valley has estimated brown coal resources of close to 65 billion mt, representing approximately 25% of the world's known brown coal reserves, according to the Earth Resource unit of the Victoria Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions.

Hurdles

With capacity of 2.2 GW, Star of the South would not only be Australia's largest wind project, but one of the largest offshore wind projects in the Asia Pacific region as well, said Logan Reese, research and analysis associate director at IHS Markit in Brisbane. But it must overcome many hurdles, including the uncertainty surrounding the development of a federal regulatory framework for the industry, he added.

While Star of the South will be located in waters that come under federal jurisdiction, the national government has yet to release a regulatory framework, despite commencing work more than a year ago. The lack of involvement at the federal level in the uptake in Australia's renewable generation capacity spearheaded by state governments was contributing to the uncertainty, Reese said.

Latrobe Valley impact

The Star of the South project on its own could put further pressure on coal plants in the Latrobe Valley that are scheduled to close by 2048, according to Reese. The proposed transmission route would connect the project to the existing infrastructure built for the nation's largest source of CO2 emissions, the Loy Yang brown coal-fired power plant in Latrobe Valley.

Australia's "coal plants are undergoing increased financial pressure from uptake in renewable generation that is forcing early closures of an aging fleet. The Star of the South project would likely increase that pressure," he said.

There have, however, been concerns about the impact of Star of the South on local communities during construction and its environmental effects. Coldham said detailed studies are being conducted to minimize any potential impacts and disruptions from the projects.

Star of the South will undergo comprehensive environmental assessments by the Australian and Victorian governments. These environmental and planning assessments are supported by site investigations and data collected by Australian scientists and researchers at the government's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization plus Monash, Deakin, and Curtin universities.

Land route

The 75-km land route passes through mostly agricultural land. Around 35 km of the land route may follow Basslink — an existing, high voltage overhead transmission line.

"We're working with Basslink to determine how much space is needed between their overhead lines and our underground cables, and if it's possible to share some of their existing easement," according to the transition network fact sheet.

Grid connection in the Latrobe Valley will be determined by the Australian Energy Market Operator.

The board of directors for the Star of the South project comprises Australian founders and advisers, with investment from Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, a Danish fund manager with seven energy infrastructure funds and more than Eur12 billion ($14.5 billion) under management.

Posted 01 April 2021 by Bernadette Lee, Principal Journalist, Climate and Sustainability, OPIS, IHS Markit

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