Australia opened talks over a policy framework to underpin offshore wind development off its coasts, in a move welcomed by the nation’s fledgling industry as a signal that it has a long-term future down under.
A discussion paper from the Department of the Environment and Energy (DEE) launched a consultation period to 28 February over a proposed regulatory framework for wind and other offshore renewables that could "offer significant new employment, and billions of dollars of investment, in Australia’s coastal economies".
The proposed policy framework, based on competitive licence awards, would be technology-neutral and open the way for research and demonstration projects as well as commercial generators, says the paper.
The DEE sets out plans for a Feasibility Licence giving developers a five-year window to seek a Commercial Licence, which in turn clears the way for up to 30 years of commercial activity.
The paper adds: "The legislative framework will include the option to charge an annual payment based on the size of the area held under the licence."
The discussion paper was welcomed by Offshore Wind Australia, a business network set up to support development of the sector there. CEO Andy Evans said: "The discussion paper is a positive step by the Australian government to recognise the real prospect of offshore wind as a key part of the energy mix in Australia going forward.
"The local and international industries now have a clear signal that the industry, whilst still in its infancy, has a future that can be shaped in a collaborative way."
Evans was founding CEO of Star of the South, the 2.2GW plan backed by Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners to deploy turbines off Victoria that’s currently the only Australian offshore wind project advancing, and aims to supply power to consumers in Melbourne and surrounding areas.
Star of the South took a big step forward last year when the Australian government granted an exploration licence for technical and environmental studies, but the sector still lacked a regulatory framework.
Evans said the new movement to open policy discussions is "an exciting development and a recognition of the hard work undertaken over the last seven to eight years to get to this stage.
"Hopefully this encourages local and international investors and developers to turn their mind to progressing a critical industry for Australia with significant opportunities that will be far-reaching."
Renewables and the wider climate agenda is currently the subject of sharper focus in Australia, as the country struggles to control bushfires that have turned the spotlight on the fossil-friendly approach of the government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison.