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Unions launch campaign backing Southern Ocean wind energy after government opposes project


Workers are up in arms following one state’s decision to reject a proposed offshore wind energy zone, saying the move undercuts net zero ambitions and puts thousands of jobs at risk.

The South Australian government wrote to Energy Minister Chris Bowen last week to formally oppose the proposed Southern Ocean offshore wind energy zone, a major green project based in waters off the coast.

The project aimed to concentrate energy production in Commonwealth waters from Warrnambool in Victoria, to Port MacDonnell in the state’s southeast Limestone Coast region.

Primary Industries Minister Clare Scriven said the construction of massive turbines could damage the state’s $187.5m rock lobster industry.

But the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union has hit back that the government had “jumped the gun” and caused thousands of jobs to disappear to other states.

“We know that rock lobster fishing and offshore wind coexist in other parts of the world,” CEPU South Australian state secretary John Adley said.

Uninformed knee jerk decisions like this risk the state’s broader economy and environment.

“Thousands of jobs in renewable electricity are at stake and transitioning to a greener, cleaner economy will put the rock lobster industry on a sustainable footing for the future.”

The State Government has asked the federal government to reduce the size of the proposed area to stop at the South Australian border.

The CEPA, the Maritime Union of Australia, CFMEU and Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union have all blasted the move.

“Maritime workers are shocked by the government’s decision to oppose investment worth billions of dollars and the thousands of secure union jobs that could accompany it,” MUA South Australian branch secretary Brett Larkin said.

“There is great potential for offshore wind in waters off South Australia.

“The Australian Energy Market Operator has found that waters off South Australia have stronger and more consistent winds than anywhere onshore in the state.”

AMWU South Australian secretary Peter Bauer said the decision could put the state’s manufacturing competitiveness at risk.

“The government’s opposition risks denying us the opportunity to develop good sustainable jobs, as well as being at odds with the state’s renewable energy policies.

“It must be reconsidered.”

Deputy Premier and Climate Minister Susan Close said her government supported renewable energy jobs but the proposal threatened South Australia’s diverse marine ecosystem, including pygmy blue whale, southern right whale, white shark, Australasian gannet, wedge-tailed shearwater and several species of albatross.

“The South Australian government is committed to renewable energy projects that improve our state’s energy security, but we cannot support ones that have the potential to cause significant harm to local industries and the environment,” she said.

“The zone’s proximity to our marine parks and the Bonney upwelling is also of significant concern given the rich biodiversity in the region.”

The government has also argued the energy generated in the zone would connect to Victoria’s power grid and offer “no net benefit” to South Australians.

South Australian Rock Lobster Advisory Council executive officer Nathan Kimber praised the move, saying it would reduce stress and uncertainty in his industry.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.