Q&A with Great Eastern developer

Tom Parry

CORIO Generation’s chief executive officer, Jonathan Cole recently visited Australia to meet with various stakeholders.

The UK-based firm – which is backed by Macquarie’s Green Investment Group – announced last June that it would be building the Great Eastern Offshore Wind project, the fourth such development off Gippsland’s coast.

If approved, the windfarm would be built approximately 22 kilometres from the Wellington Shire’s coastline, and generate up to 2.5 gigawatts of electricity – enough energy to power 1.6 million households.

It is estimated that up to 3000 jobs will be created during the construction phase, and up to 400 long-term jobs once the project is completed.

While in Australia last month, Mr Cole spoke with the Gippsland Times to discuss his itinerary, how Great Eastern will connect to the grid, a timeline for the project, and how large the project will be.

 

You’re in Australia representing Corio Generation, which has been involved in many offshore wind projects around the world; what particularly interested you about this project off the Gippsland coast?

First thing is, Corio is a global offshore wind player investing in projects all over the world; as part of the Macquarie Group, we’ve got a long track record in offshore wind. But what’s really quite interesting for us, satisfying for us is a lot of the work… in these offshore wind projects that are in the world, has been done by the Australian people – actually, quite a few people from Victoria – who’ve been working overseas on large projects in, say, Taiwan and places like that. And now, these people have the opportunity to come back home to Victoria, and get to develop an offshore wind industry right here in their home territory, which is really a great thing to be able to say. So this proud Australian pedigree that we have globally developing offshore wind, gets to deployed here locally. I think we’re the only player who can really say we’re an Australian company that has deep global expertise in offshore wind. So that makes us, immediately, want to come and make this.

And then when you look beyond that, and you look at the actual opportunity itself, what you’ve got off the coast of Gippsland is some areas that are perfect for offshore wind – you’ve got wind speed, waterbed, seabed conditions and all the rest of it – feeding power into a part of the world that really could use that power. You’ve got large quantities of affordable, low-carbon, reliable power, coming in at a time when coal-thermal plants are starting to phase out; this (project) is the perfect way to replace that and clean-up the power system. And, in so doing, spending huge amounts of investment and jobs in the local area. So it’s a real win-win opportunity – it’s a great place to build offshore wind; it’s a place that really makes sense to build offshore wind. We’re a company that really want to be here, back home in Victoria building offshore wind, and… the federal government and the state government (have) really put down a great regulatory framework to make it all happen.

 

What have you been doing while you’ve been in Australia? Have you been talking to industry representatives or governments?

I’ve been doing a combination of things. I’ve met with the state premier, Premier (Daniel) Andrews; I’ve met with some staff from the Energy Department – in fact, last week (March 13 -17) I met with the Minister, (Lily) D’Ambrosio in London before I came out on this trip, so we’ve been quite well-engaged with the state government, talking about their plans and all the good work they’re doing on the regulatory framework for offshore wind. As well as spending more time with the team out here – we’re a growing team here in Melbourne… and it’s great to get everyone together and spend time planning what we’re doing and making sure what we’re doing is… responding to the local need.

A graphic showing where the Great Eastern Offshore Wind project is expected to be built, in blue.
Image: Contributed

Have you had the opportunity yet to chat with any federal representatives or local government representatives?

Not on this trip – not so far, no.

 

Is that something that you plan on doing?

Well, I’m not sure in this week I’m going to be able to do that. I am going to be back out again, actually, in a few months’ time and down in the local area – down in Sale. At that point, I’m hoping to get a chance to meet the local government players and speak to people down there about the opportunities coming from the project.

 

Our local state MP, Danny O’Brien said last year regarding the project: “There are many issues still to work through, not least of which is the manner in which transmission lines through our region will be built to connect these (offshore wind) projects to the grid.” At this early stage, do you have a plan as to how Corio will connect their energy to the grid?

One of the things which is heartening here in Victoria – which I think is a really progressive, forward-thinking move on the part of the state government – is that they are looking at building a connection point for these offshore projects, in a very coordinated way. VicGrid… are working at connection points in Gippsland, and in Portland, which will be able to take the power from the offshore projects and back to the demand centres. And by doing that in a very coordinated way, it means that you can get started building that transmission corridor in advance with plenty of time; but also, you can coordinate all the different project connections into this one area, which means that the impact on the local community and all the rest of it is minimised. So it’s a very strategic and smart way to do it.

 

Does Corio have any preference to whether its transmission lines will be above or below ground at this stage?

I think it’s still open – we’re consulting with people (about) what the best option is. What you’re trying to balance there is the cost of doing it – which eventually becomes the cost to the consumer of the electricity – with all the other impacts, (such as) what’s the best environmental outcome. So all that’s still under review, but we will respond to the needs of the community and the results of the permitry process.

Corio Generation CEO Jonathan Cole.
Photo: Contributed

When it was first announced, Corio’s statement said Great Eastern would be “completed in time to contribute to the Victorian government’s renewable energy targets”; is that still the case?

Yes, absolutely. The target set by the Victorian government – which is two gigawatts by 2032, (then) I think it’s four (gigawatts) by 2035 and nine by 2040 – those targets are utterly achievable. The Great Eastern project, in fact, could be producing 2.5 gigawatts before the end of this decade, so well in-time for the target. So I think, not only are those targets achievable, but they could actually be exceeded if the conditions are right. And the reason why we say that is… because of the actions of the state government putting in place that grid connection, also investing in the Port of Hastings – so addressing some of the big barriers that would usually slow you down, (by) building these projects. They are taking a very strategic, forward-looking approach to that, doing it all in advance so that those targets can be hit, or even beaten, if it’s appropriate to do it.

 

Corio will be sharing the Bass Strait with a number of other offshore wind projects, such as Star of the South and Seadragon; have you had the opportunity to consult with those projects, or perhaps look at what they’re doing in the region?

What’s quite important when you’re doing this – and remember, we’ve done this in loads of countries all over the world already – is you need to take the approach that you’re building an industry; you’re not just building a project. So therefore, what’s actually quite important is that developers are in dialogue with each other; they’re finding ways to collaborate and do things in the right way. So then, what you’ve actually created is a healthy, vibrant industry with more than one developer, more than one project, more than one of each type of supplier. So we’re very open to collaborate with our fellow developers to get the best outcome for the state, in terms of this offshore wind program.

And the good thing is, because of these targets and because of the need for large quantities of low-carbon, affordable power, there’s plenty of room for all of us to be in the industry and play a part, not fighting against each other – to leave plenty of room for all of us at the table. What we’re actually doing is working together, to make that table as attractive as possible.

 

In these early stages, do you have any indication as to how many wind turbines will be part of Great Eastern, and large they will be?

We haven’t precisely defined that yet… because at the moment we’re doing the environmental assessments and the planning for a project that is going to still be many years, towards the back end of this decade, before it’s built. What we will do is we will work on the business of the technology that we anticipate will be state-of-the-art at the time that we build it. And the reason we do that is because using the state-of-the-art technology means you get the most efficient, lowest-cost project for the consumer. We’re taking a view (of) where we think turbine size will be, how big the blades will be, how big the generators will be, and then that will define how many turbines (there are). We haven’t finalised that yet, so we’re… taking a view on where we think the technology’s going to be at the end of the decade, but it will be determined more precisely later on. You’ll be able to see more about that in April, when we submit our… development licence application – that will show more about how we expect that to be set-out, and what assumptions we’re making about future turbine sizes, and therefore numbers of turbines. So a few weeks from now, that will be publicly available.