Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Legislation Amendment Bill 2022

I’m pleased to speak on the Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Legislation Amendment Bill 2022. As we know, the coalition in government passed legislation to enable the development of
offshore electricity infrastructure through the Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Bill 2021. It provided a robust framework, particularly in Commonwealth waters, for this path of development. The majority of this bill has our support. However, to improve the bill even further, I support the amendment moved by the shadow minister, the member for Fairfax, in this space.

There is a proposal for a particular offshore wind farm in my electorate, off Bunbury and throughout the southwest along Binningup. In looking at this at a presentation recently, it was apparently around 5.5 kilometres. It’s currently looking at starting in state waters. It’s a near-shore construction. It will expand into Commonwealth waters over time. The proposal is for 111 turbines, 15 in state waters and 96 in Commonwealth waters, producing 1.8 gigawatts of power. Construction is expected to take place between 2028 and 2030 and it’s expected this wind farm will be operational from 2031. I’m not sure of the exact height of the turbines, but we know that, according to NOPSEMA information, they started off at a particular height and now can be built to up to 250 metres. I understand the company stated that it has 10 offshore wind projects fully approved and ready to go. As I know, from talking to my colleagues, it’s really important that we have the right location for offshore and onshore wind turbines and wind farms. We’ve seen some very successful ones in the member for Grey’s electorate and also in Tasmania.

One of the important parts of this is to really consider the whole-of-life management of the infrastructure: the logistics, the construction and the maintenance; issues around corrosion and potential collision with vessels; the particular impact on bird life; the issue of fires; mechanical and electrical equipment failure; and potential wind damage. The life span of wind turbines ranges from 10 to 15 to around 20 years, so the removal, the recycling and the decommissioning of these is also an issue to be considered at this point, which is what we really want to see throughout this legislation. In particular, the financial arrangements for licence holders should also be considered to guarantee the dollars are there for not just the maintenance but the removal and the recycling.

I am also particularly focused on local procurement that might go with this in my electorate. I’m aware that, in certain areas, the same crew is used to simply service various wind farms on rotation, and it may not involve locals. The presentation that I saw recently, in spite of what has been said, showed that once these wind turbines are in place, whether onshore or offshore—and it’s the same with solar panel farms—there are actually very few jobs locally available once they’re operational.

We see in this legislation that there is a change that gives the minister discretion in the decisions around the financial side of this for the proponents. Certainly, robust guarantees need to be put in place, whether it’s by way of a banknote or a letter of credit, and there needs to be an enduring arrangement so that, at the end of life of the piece of infrastructure, the actual dollars are there and financed by those who actually built and benefited from this particular infrastructure.

I’m also concerned about the national security and sovereignty issues. The fact is that, at this time, at least 80 per cent of solar panels are produced in China, and that’s moving towards 95 per cent. In the turbine space, China is also a major supplier. I’ve received some information around the recycling capability, and certainly the turbines that came out of Germany had a higher recycling capability than others. So, when you consider the 10-, 15- or 20-year time frames, these are all practical matters that need to be dealt with when these sorts of projects are on the table.

Recently, at the Energy and Climate Summit, I saw the need, as we’ve heard repeatedly, for 47-megawatt wind turbines to be built every month until 2030. It will be a significant task to manage these and to recycle them over time, and, as we know, they could be up to 250 metres high. At the same time, we will need to see 22,500- watt solar panels installed every day—that’s 60 million by the end of the decade. NOPSEMA talks about the location of the turbine—whether it’s solar or wind or onshore or offshore—and the importance of its closeness and proximity to the markets where the demand is. We know that to be often either industrial or city based, because that’s where the demand is.

In rural and regional areas, we’re now seeing the impacts of this. The most important thing will be the social licence, the community consultation process and the real concerns around the changes in this bill that give the minister the financial security of the licence holders, which will sit with him and not with the regulator. There is concern that rural, regional and, sometimes, more remote communities could be steamrolled in this process.

We also know of the 28,000 kilometres of transmission lines that will be required onshore. This will have a significant impact on rural, regional and, potentially, more remote communities. I’m unashamedly a farmer, and the other issue around the new solar farms is that there are some significant areas that are the right place for onshore wind farms and solar panels, but there are also some places that are the wrong place for onshore wind farms and solar panels. We know that the sheer size of the area that will be required for both will be significant, which is why I also very strongly support the amendments proposed by the member for Fairfax, the shadow minister for climate change and energy.

Given the ministerial control over the financial arrangements, it’s really important that the regional communities are not steamrolled and that they are well consulted on the installation required and are a part of the discussion from day one. That is a particular part of the amendment that I am very supportive of. That social licence is so critical, and in rural, regional, and remote areas it is very, very important. It’s not okay to say in that space, ‘You will just take this whether you like it or not.’ There is a real need to engage with the community along the way.

The issue of product stewardship is important; the whole of life of these particular pieces of infrastructure is really important. But I am very committed to maximising local procurement, which is, again, covered in the amendments. It’s important that wherever the infrastructure is located, whether it’s onshore or offshore, the local communities are actually benefiting and the local businesses—the small businesses engaged in this—are actually beneficiaries of this space. There is a real need for real transparency around each financial security deal approved by the minister—no question. The community needs to have confidence in that process and to know that, at the end of life for that infrastructure, there are arrangements in place not only for the ongoing servicing and maintenance but for the removal and the recycling. The community needs to know that that is in place from day one so that they have confidence that they won’t be left with assets that are no longer working and with no funding to support that work.

In the budget last night, we saw a potential increase of 50 per cent in energy bills and 40 per cent in gas bills to 2023. What we need is a managed transition as we move through. It’s the government’s job to manage the transition because there is a need for affordable, reliable and dispatchable power. Under the coalition we saw electricity prices fall by 10 per cent for households and small businesses and by 12 per cent for industry. In spite of what’s being said, we also saw $40 billion invested in renewables from 2017.

I support the legislation and I support the further amendments to improve this bill and to improve the outcome. As I said, it’s really important to rural and regional communities that they are part of this process and that they can have confidence not only in their dealings with the actual companies but in the whole-of-life management of these particular assets and this infrastructure. One clear way of doing that is to ensure the financial security side of it and to have clarity over that, but the social licence to operate in those communities is also particularly critical. There is a real need for our communities to be engaged early on and to not be steamrolled in this process. It is equally important that there is a benefit for those small communities not only with the production of this electricity but in the management of the process throughout its life span, whether that’s 10, 15 or 20 years, and that appropriate management and recycling are part of that.