On 14 October 2021, the Environment and Communications Legislation Committee (Committee) released its report recommending that the Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Bill 2021 (OEI Bill) be passed by the Senate.

The Committee noted the importance of the OEI Bill to be enacted as soon as possible, which is supported by a number of key industry stakeholders, including the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU). The ACTU expressed strong support towards the OEI Bill and highlighted that proposed projects have already experienced delays due to an absence of a regulatory framework.

The support for the OEI Bill to pass swiftly is a step in the right direction for offshore clean energy development. However, there are still a number of key features of the supporting regulations (such as applications, the offer and grant of licences, transfer of licences and management plans) that need more consideration before projects can proceed with regulatory certainty.

In the meantime, the Committee has outlined a number of immediate amendments that they recommend should be included in the final OEI Bill, including:

  • revising the objectives of the OEI Bill to include electricity transmission and climate change and emissions reduction objectives
  • amending the consultation requirements for 'declared areas', including specifying the time frames governments are to follow for 'declaring areas'
  • addressing concerns with the changes in control provisions to better balance the government's safeguards without impeding the flow of capital over the lifetime of the project and asset.

The Committee's recommendation should be welcomed news to many proposed projects like the Star of the South project (a proposed wind farm seven to 25 kilometres offshore McLoughlin's Beach, Victoria), which has been in the pipeline since 2012. The project is currently in the advanced stages with a forecast to start construction in the middle of the decade and achieve full power generation by 2030.

We expect the Federal Government to pass the OEI Bill later this year. In contrast, the suite of draft supporting regulations that will set out significant parts of the offshore electricity infrastructure framework and give regulatory certainty are not expected to be published until middle to late 2022.

This publication does not deal with every important topic or change in law and is not intended to be relied upon as a substitute for legal or other advice that may be relevant to the reader's specific circumstances. If you have found this publication of interest and would like to know more or wish to obtain legal advice relevant to your circumstances please contact one of the named individuals listed.