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Teals back Plibersek, urge Vic to find alternative to Port of Hastings

Federal teal MPs have urged the Victorian government to scrap its contentious Port of Hastings wind hub and consider alternatives in Geelong and Tasmania that would have less harmful environmental effects, amid confusion over how new premier Jacinta Allan plans to mitigate the “unacceptable” effects on protected wetlands.

Ms Allan vowed to push ahead with the project after federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek stunned the industry by vetoing the project due to unacceptable damage to wetlands at Western Port Bay.

Victorian-based federal teal MP Zoe Daniel has urged the state government to consider alternative site options to the Port of Hastings for its offshore wind terminal.  Alex Ellinghausen

The country’s most advanced offshore wind venture, Star of the South, is understood to have several other port options under consideration, including the Barry Beach terminal and Port Anthony, Geelong and Bell Bay in Tasmania.

Victorian federal teal MP Zoe Daniel on Wednesday urged the state Labor government to consider these options for the project, which falls under the watch of both Ports Minister Melissa Horne and Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio.

“There do appear to be alternatives: Geelong is already a well-established port; Tasmania is offering up Bell Bay. Neither appear to have the same environmental issues as the Port of Hastings,” Ms Daniel told The Australian Financial Review.

“No one ever suggested the transition to cleaner, cheaper and more reliable energy would be a simple proposition. We should not be put off from doing what is necessary for our future prosperity and wellbeing just because it’s challenging.

“Now is the time for considered progress. It is not a time for waiting. We must navigate around any roadblock in a timely and reasoned way.”

Kooyong teal MP Monique Ryan said while the state and federal governments should invest more in offshore wind farms, she backed Ms Plibersek’s decision to veto the project, as did independent ACT senator David Pocock.

“The Port of Hastings proposal would have dredged ecologically sensitive wetlands and posed far too great a risk to Australia’s precious biodiversity,” Dr Ryan said.

This comes as the sharp-tailed sandpiper, which migrates from Siberia to Western Port Bay each August to roost and feed, was added to the federal Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water’s list of 76 vulnerable bird species on January 5.

Australian Conservation Foundation CEO Kelly O’Shanassy said the protection of wetlands should not be sacrificed to accelerate the energy transition, with Western Port Bay an internationally significant habitat for sharp-tailed sandpipers that hosts up to 1700 of the birds each year.

“It’s not a choice between renewables and nature. We can have both and in fact we need both,” Ms O’Shanassy told the Financial Review.

“But renewables infrastructure must be sited in the right places and this proposal for a wind turbine assembly facility is in the wrong place.”

Ms Allan on Tuesday said the state government had plans to mitigate the potential environmental impacts of the Port of Hastings terminal after Victorian Planning Minister Sonya Kilkenny referred the project for an environment effects assessment, which has yet to be completed, in October.

Ms Kilkenny cited the potential for “significant environmental effects” on biodiversity values, including impacts on the habitat of threatened species and communities.

Ms O’Shanassy, who wrote policy papers on the protection of Western Port Bay while working at the Environment Protection Authority in the early 2000s, described Ms Allan’s confidence in the mitigation of environmental impacts on the Ramsar-listed wetlands as “absolute bunk”.

“There are some places so precious to nature that they cannot be developed, and development on them cannot be mitigated. Western Port is one of those places,” she said.

“Tanya Plibersek made the right decision in not allowing a facility to assemble wind turbines for offshore wind farms to be built on the sensitive wetlands of Western Port.”

Federal Energy Minister Chris Bowen on Wednesday downplayed the threat to Australia’s 2030 emissions target following Ms Plibersek’s decision to reject the port expansion, which is critical to Victoria’s offshore wind industry, and said there were “options available” to the state.

A Victorian Labor spokeswoman on Wednesday told the Financial Review that the state government was still plotting its next move and that there was no guarantee the Port of Hastings proposal would progress.

“Developers are ready to invest in Australia [but] to maximise this opportunity we need full partnership with the Commonwealth – national targets, national coordination of approvals and supply chain development, and national funding for projects,” she said.

“Offshore wind is essential for Australia’s energy security and decarbonisation and offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for job creation, high-skilled and secure employment supported by local manufacturing.

“We already have a National Electric Vehicle Strategy, National Hydrogen Strategy and National Energy Performance Strategy under development – it’s time for national leadership on offshore wind to help Australia reach our ambitious renewable energy targets.”

Ms Plibersek’s decision has also been supported by the Wilderness Society, independent campaign group Environment Victoria, and the Victorian National Parks Association.

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