Buried treasure

Doorstop: Minister for Energy and Resources Lily D'Ambrosio addresses the media in Agnes (near Welshpool) on Friday. Photograph supplied



THE best ships are red and white after all.

A 50-strong crew will spend five weeks at sea, collecting soil and rock samples from beneath the seafloor off the Wellington coast to help design the proposed Star of the South offshore wind energy project.

Samples will be taken from up to 70 metres beneath the seabed, in a project led by international geo-data specialists Fugro.

Dignitaries gathered at QUBE’s Barry Beach Terminal (near Welshpool) on Friday to formally announce the works, and tour the Fugro vessel.

Among them was the Minister for Energy and Resources, Lily D’Ambrosio, along with the Star of the South chief executive Charles Rattray, Fugro regional director Shalu Shajahan, South Gippsland Shire Mayor Nathan Hersey, and Latrobe Valley Authority chief executive Chris Buckingham.

The Barry Beach Terminal is the main supply depot for Esso Australia’s Bass Strait oil and gas operations, and facilitates the transport of equipment and supplies to more than 20 offshore platforms.

Ms D’Ambrosio welcomed the works, saying they would continue a strong legacy of energy in Gippsland.

“This will be the first marine geotechnical campaign in Australia for offshore wind energy – which is a huge achievement for Victoria as it makes the transition from coal to renewables,” she said.

“This event is such an important next step in the creation of Australia’s first offshore wind energy industry, and Victoria will deliver that.

“This geotechnical survey that we are marking is the first of its kind in Australia for the offshore wind energy industry. It is a major milestone for the development of the country’s first offshore wind energy industry, here, hosted by the Gippsland region.

“That is really such a fundamentally and significant focus for us, when we understand and acknowledge the role that the Gippsland region has played for many decades in delivering energy.”

Investigations are being funded in part by the state government’s Energy Innovation Fund.

“From our $108 million Energy Innovation Fund, we’ve carved off about $19.5 million for the Star of the South to do works such as pre-construction surveys,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

“These things do not happen by accident, they happen with having clear, ambitious targets.”

Those ambitious targets include having 95 per cent of the state’s electricity coming from renewable sources by 2035.

However, with the imminent closure of coal-fire powered stations at Yallourn in 2028 and Loy Yang A in 2035, questions surrounding the likely void between 2028 and 2035 continued to linger.

With the state government announcing the return of the SEC at last year’s election, Ms D’Ambrosio said the returning workforce was set to play a key role.

“Certainly the SEC is an agency that will help to accelerate our drive toward creating 95 per cent renewable energy by 2035. I was very pleased to launch the Pioneer Investment Mandate for the SEC, and we’re wanting to get off and running as quickly as we can to get the first project, or projects backed by the SEC, built by the SEC, and we’re not wasting a day,” she said.

“Right now, we are wanting to find projects that are ready to be built, we’re looking to have the first projects selected by the end of this year.

Following formalities, attendees took the opportunity to tour the Fugro vessel.

Interestingly, patrons were required to wear masks on board, and were shown around the control room, getting a feel for life at sea.

Spotting a table tennis table folded up, a crew member quipped how it can be quite challenging playing ping pong on board a boat tackling rough seas.

AS Mr Shajahan explained, the Fugro vessel’s capabilities were extensive.
“We have a combination of CBT (computer-based testing) equipment as well as drilling equipment,” he said.

“As we go out we collect actual quantitative data in terms of CBT’s and samples, which we bring back and do the analysis, because we need to characterise the kind of geology.”
The vessel can cater for up to 500 metres of drilling simultaneously.

Seabed studies follow four years of engineering and environmental investigations on the project.

Addressing media assembled at the QUBE dock in front of the Fugro vessel, Mr Rattray described it as a “momentous day for Victoria, Gippsland and Star of the South”.

“These investigations will collect critical data to drive progress on the project, and bring us another step closer to bringing offshore wind energy into the grid this decade,” he said.

“Knowing what’s under the seabed in this specific location helps ensure everything we do – from turbine design and placement through to construction methods – is tailored especially for this spot in Bass Strait”, Mr Buckingham said the Latrobe Valley Authority would be working closely with all stakeholders.

“It’s a really good development for the industry and indeed for the region,” he said.

“It’s a sign of things to come. Star of the South takes its relationship with Gippsland very seriously, and it’s wonderful to see them with this confidence bringing this infrastructure in to make sure they are doing the job right.

“Our role as always will be about supporting the region through transition, quite clearly we can see that offshore wind will be part of that transition and so therefore, we have a role to play supporting both existing industry and also new industry, making sure people in Gippsland prosper and benefit from the change.”

While not discounting the value of renewables, Member for Eastern Victoria Region, Melina Bath, said longevity and prosperity of the Gippsland region also needed to be carefully considered.

“Investment in new energy jobs presents an opportunity for Gippsland, however we must be active participants in such projects,” she said.

“The Nationals will continue to advocate for sustainable long term careers for locals, including the use of local expertise in manufacturing, engineering, construction and maintenance.

“It’s fair to say our community expects more than short term, localised benefits – given the scope of the project, establishing stakeholder relationships that benefit locals in the long term will be central to its acceptance.”

Star of the South is Australia’s most advanced offshore wind project, proposed to be located off the Wellington coast.

It is estimated Star of the South will power up to 1.2 million homes when operating at full capacity.