Australia’s first offshore wind farm bill was a long time coming, but here are 4 reasons it’s not up to scratch yet


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Madeline Taylor, Macquarie University and Tina Soliman Hunter, Macquarie UniversityAfter years of waiting, the federal government finally introduced Australia’s first offshore electricity legislation in parliament yesterday. The bill will establish a regulatory framework for the offshore wind industry, paving the way for more than ten proposed projects.

Australia’s wind resources are among the world’s best, comparable to the North Sea between Britain and Europe where offshore energy is an established industry. In fact, research from July found if all the proposed offshore wind farms were built, their combined energy capacity would be greater than all of Australia’s coal-fired power plants.

But Australia’s lack of legal framework has meant we’re yet to commission our first offshore wind farm.

The new legislation took years of stakeholder anticipation leading to public consultation in 2020, but upon first reading one is left a little wanting. We find four reasons the bill isn’t up to scratch yet, from its inadequate safety provisions to vague wording around Native Title rights and interests.

A huge opportunity

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) identifies offshore wind as key in the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, calling for the world’s offshore wind capacity to increase ten-fold, to 45 gigawatts per year by 2050.

In line with IRENA’s position, many of Australia’s trading partners have ambitious targets for offshore wind, including the UK, US, European Union, Korea and Japan. For example, the UK’s target is to reach a total of 40 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030.

This new bill is Australia’s attempt to join its partners. It will give offshore electricity projects the framework for construction, operation, maintenance, and more.

One project, for example, is the Star of the South, which plans to build an offshore wind farm off the coast of Gippsland in Victoria. This project has the potential to supply 20% of the state’s energy needs. Like Australia’s other 12 proposed offshore wind projects, it has been waiting on an appropriate regulatory framework to go ahead.




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Wind turbines off the coast could help Australia become an energy superpower, research finds


Offshore wind is essential to help Australia cut its greenhouse gas emissions and create a sustainable and affordable electricity market. Indeed, the explanatory memorandum that accompanies the bill notes that if passed, the legislation will establish certainty that investors crave, potentially leading to billions of dollars worth of investment.

Wind energy infrastructure projects will also create thousands of jobs. Recent estimates suggest the offshore wind industry could create as much as 8,000 jobs each year from 2030. The Star of the South alone expects to create 2,000 direct jobs in Victoria over its lifetime, including 200 ongoing local jobs.

But the bill doesn’t go far enough

This bill represents a first attempt to establish a world-class regulatory regime. But does it?

Well, first of all it didn’t get off to a good start. In 2020, the government committed to having the legislation settings and framework in place by mid 2021. This target was not delivered.

And upon closer examination of the bill, we find critical omissions compared to best practice in North Sea jurisdictions.

A ship outside turbines at sunset
Offshore wind is essential to help Australia cut its greenhouse gas emissions.
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1. Weak protections for the environment

To protect the environment, projects need to create a management plan that complies with requirements under the federal environment law. But this won’t ensure marine life is unharmed by enormous, noisy turbines.

According to a major, independent review earlier this year, Australia’s environment law is outdated and flawed.




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It only addresses select environmental issues. The law is far too broad to deal with the unique requirements of offshore wind turbines, which Australian waters have never experienced before.

For example, under the bill’s broad management plan requirements, many environmental issues such as underwater noise and impacts on fish spawning would likely not be addressed.

Compare this to jurisdictions in the North Sea. In the UK, offshore wind projects require a thorough strategic environmental assessment, detailing all possible environmental impacts.

2. Native Title holders lose out

Offshore energy project developers are prohibited from interfering with Native Title rights and interests. But the bill allows interference if it’s “necessary” for the for the “reasonable exercise” of project rights and obligations.

This raises a critical question — what is considered “necessary” and “reasonable”?

This vague wording could see projects go ahead when it conflicts with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and their Native Title rights.




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3. Inadequate safety provisions

Offshore wind energy development holds inherent risks, such as transporting and constructing wind turbine components in hazardous environments, which are often subject to extreme weather. Without a solid safety framework, construction may lead to injuries or deaths, similar to those that have occurred in the North Sea.

Under the new legislation, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) would be appointed as the offshore wind regulator. NOPSEMA would oversee safety using the generic Work, Health and Safety Act 2011.

But the bill says parts of the Work, Health and Safety Act will need to be modified so they’re “fit for purpose”. It would require extra provisions, exclusions and workarounds, making the assurance of structures difficult.

Compare this to offshore petroleum operations, which get a bespoke safety framework , one NOPSEMA is already familiar with. Why isn’t one put in place for offshore wind farms?

Construction of an offshore turbine
Offshore wind construction workers may have to deal with extreme weather, putting them at risk.
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4. It may leave the community behind

In Denmark, offshore wind turbines are located less than 16 kilometres from the coastline. They’re obliged to offer at least 20% of ownership shares to local citizens.

But under Australia’s proposed bill, there are no explicit community benefit schemes. This is an important omission, because creating laws to increase community participation and engagement could reduce any risk of “not in my backyard” (Nimbyism) attitudes. It would also ensure hosting communities are actively involved early and frequently throughout the lifecycle of offshore wind projects.

In crafting best practice regulation coupled with community benefit schemes, the opportunities are limitless. A first step could be to create further public submission opportunities for communities to comment on the bill.

Offshore wind is our golden ticket to a reliable, affordable, and clean energy future. Investing in the offshore wind industry is a no-brainer for Australia, but it needs to be done right.




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The Conversation


Madeline Taylor, Senior Lecturer, Macquarie University and Tina Soliman Hunter, Professor of Energy and Natural Resources Law, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Here’s what happens to our plastic recycling when it goes offshore



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Migrant workers break apart blocks of pressed plastic bottles at a recycling plant in Thailand.
EPA/DIEGO AZUBEL

Monique Retamal, University of Technology Sydney; Elsa Dominish, University of Technology Sydney; Le Xuan Thinh; Nguyen, Anh Tuan, and Samantha Sharpe, University of Technology Sydney

Last year many Australians were surprised to learn that around half of our plastic waste collected for recycling is exported, and up to 70% was going to China. So much of the world’s plastic was being sent to China that China imposed strict conditions on further imports. The decision sent ripples around the globe, leaving most advanced economies struggling to manage vast quantities of mixed plastics and mixed paper.




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By July 2018, which is when the most recent data was available, plastic waste exports from Australia to China and Hong Kong reduced by 90%. Since then Southeast Asia has become the new destination for Australia’s recycled plastics, with 80-87% going to Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. Other countries have also begun to accept Australia’s plastics, including the Philippines and Myanmar.

Destination of plastic exports from Australia between January 2017 and July 2018. Click image to zoom.
Source: UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures, based on Comtrade data

But it looks like these countries may no longer deal with Australia’s detritus.

In the middle of last year Thailand and Vietnam announced restrictions on imports. Vietnam announced it would stop issuing import licences for plastic imports, as well as paper and metals, and Thailand plans to stop all imports by 2021. Malaysia has revoked some import permits and Indonesia has begun inspecting 100% of scrap import shipments.

Why are these countries restricting plastic imports?

The reason these countries are restricting plastic imports is because of serious environmental and labour issues with the way the majority of plastics are recycled. For example, in Vietnam more than half of the plastic imported into the country is sold on to “craft villages”, where it is processed informally, mainly at a household scale.

Informal processing involves washing and melting the plastic, which uses a lot of water and energy and produces a lot of smoke. The untreated water is discharged to waterways and around 20% of the plastic is unusable so it is dumped and usually burnt, creating further litter and air quality problems. Burning plastic can produce harmful air pollutants such as dioxins, furans and polychlorinated biphenyls and the wash water contains a cocktail of chemical residues, in addition to detergents used for washing.

Working conditions at these informal processors are also hazardous, with burners operating at 260-400℃. Workers have little or no protective equipment. The discharge from a whole village of household processors concentrates the air and water pollution in the local area.

Before Vietnam’s ban on imports, craft villages such as Minh Khai, outside Hanoi, had more than 900 households recycling plastic scraps, processing 650 tonnes of plastics per day. Of this, 25-30% was discarded, and 7 million litres of wastewater from washing was discharged each day without proper treatment.


Author provided

These plastic recycling villages existed before the China ban, but during 2018 the flow of plastics increased so much that households started running their operations 24 hours a day.

The rapid increase in household-level plastic recycling has been a great concern to local authorities, due to the hazardous nature of emissions to air and water. In addition, this new industry contributes to an already significant plastic litter problem in Vietnam.

Green growth or self-preservation?

A debate is now being waged in Vietnam, over whether a “green” recycling industry can be developed with better technology and regulations, or whether they must simply protect themselves from this flow of “waste”. Creating environmentally friendly plastic recycling in Vietnam will mean investment in new processing technology, enhancing supply chains, and improving the skills and training for workers in this industry.

Engineers at the Vietnam Cleaner Production Centre (which one of us, Thinh, is the director of) have been working on improving plastic processing systems to recycle water in the process, improve energy efficiency, switch to bio-based detergents and reduce impacts on workers. However, there is a long way to go to improve the vast number of these informal treatment systems.

What can we do in Australia?

While Australia’s contribution to the flow of plastics in Southeast Asia is small compared to that arriving from the United States, Japan and Europe, we estimate it still represents 50-60% of plastics collected for recycling in Australia.

Should we be sending our recyclables to countries that lack capacity to safely process it, and are already struggling to manage their own domestic waste? Should we participate in improving their industrial capacity? Or should we increase our own domestic capacity for recycling?




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A crisis too big to waste: China’s recycling ban calls for a long-term rethink in Australia


While there may be times it makes sense to export our plastics overseas where they are used for manufacturing, the plastics should be clean and uncontaminated. Processes should be in place to make sure they are recycled without causing added harm to communities and local environments.

Australia and other advanced economies need to think seriously about the future of exports, our own collection systems and our “waste” relationships with our neighbours.The Conversation

Monique Retamal, Research Principal, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney; Elsa Dominish, Senior Research Consultant, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney; Le Xuan Thinh, Director, VNCPC; Nguyen, Anh Tuan, Senior researcher, Environment Science Institute, and Samantha Sharpe, Research Director, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Noise from offshore oil and gas surveys can affect whales up to 3km away



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Migrating humpback whales avoid loud, nearby sounds.
BRAHSS, Author provided

Rebecca Dunlop, The University of Queensland and Michael Noad, The University of Queensland

Air guns used for marine oil and gas exploration are loud enough to affect humpback whales up to 3km away, potentially affecting their migration patterns, according to our new research.

Whales’ communication depends on loud sounds, which can travel very efficiently over distances of tens of kilometres in the underwater environment. But our study, published today in the Journal of Experimental Biology, shows that they are affected by other loud ocean noises produced by humans.

As part of the BRAHSS (Behavioural Response of Humpback whales to Seismic Surveys) project, we and our colleagues measured humpback whales’ behavioural responses to air guns like those used in seismic surveys carried out by the offshore mining industry.


Read more: It’s time to speak up about noise pollution in the oceans


Air guns are devices towed behind seismic survey ships that rapidly release compressed air into the ocean, producing a loud bang. The sound travels through the water and into the sea bed, bouncing off various layers of rock, oil or gas. The faint echoes are picked up by sensors towed by the same vessel.

During surveys, the air guns are fired every 10-15 seconds to develop a detailed geological picture of the ocean floor in the area. Although they are not intended to harm whales, there has been concern for many years about the potential impacts of these loud, frequent sounds.

Sound research

Although it sounds like a simple experiment to expose whales to air guns and see what they do, it is logistically difficult. For one thing, the whales may respond to the presence of the ship towing the air guns, rather than the air guns themselves. Another problem is that humpback whales tend to show a lot of natural behavioural variability, making it difficult to tease out the effect of the air gun and ship.

There is also the question of whether any response by the whales is influenced more by the loudness of the air gun, or how close the air blast is to the whale (although obviously the two are linked). Previous studies have assumed that the response is driven primarily by loudness, but we also looked at the effect of proximity.

We used a small air gun and a cluster of guns, towed behind a vessel through the migratory path of more than 120 groups of humpback whales off Queensland’s sunshine coast. By having two different sources, one louder than the other, we were able to fire air blasts of different perceived loudness from the same distance.

We found that whales slowed their migratory speed and deviated around the vessel and the air guns. This response was influenced by a combination of received level and proximity; both were necessary. The whales were affected up to 3km away, at sound levels over 140 decibels, and deviated from their path by about 500 metres. Within this “zone”, whales were more likely to avoid the air guns.

Each tested group moved as one, but our analysis did not include the effects on different group types, such as a female with calf versus a group of adults, for instance.

The ConversationOur results suggest that when regulating to reduce the impact of loud noise on whale behaviour, we need to take into account not just how loud the noise is, but how far away it is. More research is needed to find out how drastically the whales’ migration routes change as a result of ocean mining noise.

Rebecca Dunlop, Senior Lecturer in Physiology, The University of Queensland and Michael Noad, Associate Professor, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Google Enters Wind Power Generation Business


Internet giant Google has signed an agreement to invest in offshore wind power generation in the United States. This looks like quite a project. Have a look at the Google Blog post concerning this enterprise at:

http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/10/wind-cries-transmission.html