The government of South Australia is unimpressed by a federal decision to include the state’s waters among a list of six areas chosen for pioneering offshore wind tenders, citing risks to its valuable fisheries industry – and sparking a row with trade unions which support the renewable source.

Australia’s Southern Ocean is among the six areas that Australia’s Labor government has put forward for public consultation ahead of planned offshore wind lease sales.

The proposed area stretches from Warrnambool in Victoria westwards beyond Port MacDonnell in South Australia, covering around 5,100 square kilometres.

A period of consultation for the Southern Ocean Wind Zone was opened by Australia’s energy minister Chris Bowen in July, as part of a federal governmentplan to have six areas fully defined and declared by mid-2024.

As part of this process, the South Australian government has come out in opposition, and said the proposed zone should simply stop at the border with Victoria, pointing out that the proposed wind farms will be connected to that state's grid.

Early mover

The potential opening of the Southern Ocean for offshore wind farm developments has already drawn interest, including a proposal by BlueFloat Energy for a wind farm off Port MacDonnell, on the so-called Limestone Coast.

The Spain-based company has called for expressions of interest on a 1.2 GW project to be located between Cape Douglas (South Australia) and Nelson (Victoria). The Project involves 77 bottom-fixed wind turbines, two offshore substations and associated infrastructure, possibly connecting to the Portland Aluminium Smelter, Victoria.

However, such proposals have also triggered opposition from South Australian residents worried about the impacts on populations of the iconic southern rock lobster in particular and on fishing and the environment generally.

In its statement on the matter, the state government of South Australia stressed that electricity generate from the proposed zone would be connected exclusively to the Victoria state grid and said its own recommendation to exclude offshore wind had been welcomed by the state’s A$188m ($122m) rock lobster industry.

“The South Australian Government is committed to renewable energy projects that can improve our state’s energy security, but we cannot support ones that have the potential to cause significant harm to local industries and the environment. This is particularly the case when they have no net benefit to South Australians,” said Susan Close, the state’s environment minister in her submission to the ongoing consultation process.

South Australia’s primary industries minister Clare Scriven added: “The sector needs certainty going forward that some of its most productive fishing grounds will not be impacted by a project that, while impacting on South Australia, will deliver energy to Victoria.”

Impacts of noise, vibration and electromagnetic fields were among the concerns expressed by fisheries representatives.

Nathan Kimber, executive officer of the South Australian Rock Lobster Advisory Council welcomed the recommendation and said: “We now hope that minister Bowen will listen to the submissions made by the South Australian government and our industry and amend the proposed Southern Ocean offshore energy zone to exclude any waters that overlap with our fishery boundaries."

Trade unions disagree

The South Australian position came under fire from the broader trade union movement, however, according to a report by Australian Associated Press, with state branches of major unions arguing that claims about potential harm to marine life were made without adequate scientific research and failed to take account of the wind industries' potential to create sustainable jobs.

"We know that rock lobster fishing and offshore wind co-exist in other parts of the world," said John Adley, state secretary of Australia's Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union (CEPU).

The Maritime Union of Australia also issued a statement, through state secretary Brett Larkin, claiming workers were shocked by a "decision to oppose investment worth billions of dollars of investment with the potential to create thousands of jobs".

Marcus Pare, assistant secretary of the CFMEU construction workers union said the state government was falling short in its wider duties, AAP reported. "Achieving Australia's goal of net zero means that each state must play a role in supporting renewable energy projects like offshore wind," he said.

The Australian Labor Party, led by now prime minister Anthony Albanese, swept to power last year on an electoral platform that included a promise to turn Australia into a renewable energy superpower.