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Consultation launched on Victoria’s proposed offshore wind transmission connections

The Victorian government has launched a consultation on proposed new offshore wind transmission connections, as the state works to achieve its commitment to reach net zero by 2050.

This commitment includes achieving at least two gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind capacity by 2032, 4GW by 2035 and 9GW by 2040. Such ambitious targets will require significant investment in new transmission infrastructure to connect Victoria’s offshore wind zones to the state’s grid.

VicGrid, which forms part of the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action, coordinates the overarching planning and development of Victorian renewable energy zones and will lead the development of the new transmission network infrastructure. As a first step in the development of the new offshore wind transmission infrastructure, VicGrid has begun a public consultation on proposed new offshore wind transmission connections to the declared Gippsland offshore wind zone and the proposed Portland offshore wind zone.

This includes connection points for offshore wind generators and the development of necessary transmission lines to connect the current shared transmission network to the offshore wind zones. The development of this transmission network will aim to avoid a ‘spaghetti effect’ of multiple lines criss-crossing the landscape and to also minimise energy costs for households and businesses. The new offshore wind transmission consultation follows earlier community engagement on the Victorian Transmission Investment Framework (VTIF), which aims to coordinate investment in transmission, generation and storage assets across all of Victoria’s renewable energy zones.

The response to the VTIF consultation confirmed that there was broad support for the development of transmission infrastructure and the renewable energy zones. However, respondents set out a number of concerns, including the need for early and deep engagement with the local community to ensure that those planning, developing and operating the assets are physically located within the communities. Respondents also said that traditional owners should be treated as key rights holders, whose interests need to be considered throughout the planning, development and operation phases of the assets; and that benefits had to be shared between the developers of the assets, local community and traditional owners.

In line with these findings, VicGrid has committed to a number key objectives for the development of the offshore wind transmission options for Gippsland and Portland, including ensuring that Victoria has sufficient transmission infrastructure in place to power the state as demand increases and ageing coal-fired generators close. VicGrid has also committed to supporting Victoria’s offshore wind targets, the 95% renewable energy target by 2035 and the net-zero emissions target by 2045.

VicGrid is undertaking a four-phase consultation process on the offshore wind transmission network. The current public consultation forms the first part of the plan and will consist of direct engagement with traditional owners, communities and regional stakeholders across Gippsland and Portland, with submissions closing on 14 May 2023. The survey calls for opinions on the transmission infrastructure’s location – with the connection points proposed to be located within two mapped ‘areas of interest for investigation’ – as well as placement, design and approach to construction.

As part of the consultation, VicGrid will also consider whether the proposed transmission corridors will be underground. ‘Undergrounding’ is typically technically challenging, has wide-ranging environmental impacts and is an expensive option to implement. The prospects of underground implementation will be determined through technical analysis, consultation with communities and stakeholders and in partnership with traditional owners during 2023. VicGrid then plans to publish a consultation on the development of an options assessment method in mid-2023, with results published in mid- to late 2023. VicGrid will then confirm its preferred options in early 2024 at the latest.

Renewable energy and corporate law specialist Joni Henry of Pinsent Masons said: “Given the experiences in the UK during the early phases of their offshore wind industry where multiple transmission lines were constructed in relatively small areas, it is positive for the offshore wind industry in Australia that the government is looking to manage the development of shared transmission assets proactively, which will significantly de-risk the connection process for offshore wind projects.”

Environmental and planning law expert Kirstie Richards of Pinsent Masons said: “While the current phase of consultation is focused on stakeholders across the Gippsland and Portland region, we strongly recommend that offshore wind developers considering projects in the Gippsland and Portland offshore wind areas actively participate in all stages of the consultation process to ensure that the options assessment adequately considers connection and constructability issues which may impact on their projects.”

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