Energy minister in legal stoush over offshore wind farm

A company with plans to build one of Australia’s first offshore wind farms is taking federal Energy Minister Chris Bowen to court over a decision not to grant it a licence to move forward with the project.

Flotation Energy had proposed to build the Seadragon windfarm, including up to 150 wind turbines and a network of subsea cables, off the coast of Gippsland in Victoria.

In a decision last year, the minister rejected the company's application for a licence that would have enabled it to proceed with an assessment into the feasibility of the project.

According to court documents viewed by AAP on Thursday, the decision not to grant the licence included reference to an "overlapping" project to which Seadragon was deemed to be of lower merit.

In response, Seadragon requested it be granted a feasibility licence over a smaller area so as to exclude any overlap, which was denied by the minister.

Chris Bowen in front of wind turbine (file image)
Chris Bowen denied a windfarm feasibility licence due to an overlapping project, documents state.

In a motion filed with the Federal Court in June, lawyers representing Seadragon argued the minister proceeded on the incorrect understanding he lacked power to grant a feasibility licence over anything other than the whole of the proposed licence area. 

On behalf of Seadragon, they are seeking that the minister quash his decision and reconsider granting a feasibility licence over a smaller area.

The proposed Seadragon project involved wind turbine generators on fixed foundations installed between 20 and 40km off Ninety Mile Beach between Paradise Beach and McGaurans Beach, in Bass Strait.

A timeline offered for the project was to begin construction in 2028 with an expected operational date of 2030.

In 2022, then Victorian planning minister Richard Wynne required the company to prepare an environment effects statement, to assess the potential environmental impacts from the project.

At the time, he raised concerns about threatened and aquatic species, the impact on terrestrial, marine and freshwater environments, Aboriginal cultural heritage values, and landscape and visual amenity. 

A spokesperson for Flotation said the company is seeking to clarify aspects of the Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Act licensing regime in relation to the award of feasibility licenses.

"Flotation Energy is well known for pioneering offshore wind and energy transition projects," the spokesperson said.

A spokeswoman for Mr Bowen declined to comment because the matter is before the courts.

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