Offshore electricity generation and transmission in Australia is supported by a legal framework.
The framework sets out the requirements for offshore electricity infrastructure projects and activities undertaken in Commonwealth waters. These projects may include offshore wind farms.
Commonwealth waters start 3 nautical miles, about 5.5 km from the shoreline. They extend to the boundary of Australia’s exclusive economic zone. This is up to 200 nautical miles from shore or just over 370 kms.
The Offshore Electricity Infrastructure 2021 Act (OEI) and associated regulations outline how and where offshore electricity infrastructure can operate. Infrastructure can include:
- offshore wind farms
- offshore solar farms
- wave energy plants
- undersea electricity interconnectors.
Regulations to support the OEI legislative framework are being developed by the government in stages to allow projects to commence as soon as possible. The first suite of regulations that enact arrangements for licensing, fees and levies are in force.
Second stage regulations will include arrangements for management plans, a design notification scheme, work health and safety, and financial security. The department intends to consult on the second stage of regulations in late 2023 and for the regulations to come into force in the first quarter of 2024.
A licence is needed to build and operate offshore infrastructure projects.
There are 4 types of licences.
An applicant must demonstrate they satisfy prescribed suitability and merit criteria in order to be granted a licence. The matters the Minister will consider when deciding whether to grant a licence includes:
- technical and financial capability of the applicant
- likelihood the project will be viable
- suitability of the applicant to hold a licence
- national interest.
To be satisfied that the project is in the national interest, the Minister may consider the project’s impact on the Australian economy and local communities, including regional development, job creation, Australian industries and the use of Australian goods and services. The national interest requirement also includes consideration of national security, whether the project will be delivered in a reasonable timeframe, efficient use of the area, and mitigation of conflicts with other users of the area.
The offshore electricity infrastructure framework is in the early stages of implementation in Australia. Currently, only feasibility licences are open for application.
These permit the holder to assess the feasibility of a potential commercial offshore renewable energy project. They are valid for up to 7 years.
Provided there is a management plan for feasibility activities and financial security in place, the licence holder will be able to construct, install, commission, operate, maintain and decommission offshore renewable energy infrastructure needed to assess feasibility of the proposed project. An example of infrastructure to be installed under a feasibility licence would include lidar buoys to assess wind data and other ocean conditions. It does not allow for the commercial generation of electricity.
During the feasibility stage, proposed projects are assessed for environmental approvals including under the EPBC Act.
A further management plan is prepared to cover the entire proposed project, including on the consultation that has taken place with existing marine users, First Nations groups and relevant government departments.
Steps taken to identify, avoid and mitigate potential impacts, including by sharing benefits from the proposed project are also outlined in the management plan.
Feasibility licences are only available for use in an area that has been declared as suitable for development by the Minister. For more information on what areas have been declared as suitable, and how those areas are selected please visit Australia's offshore wind areas.
Developers need a feasibility licence before applying for a commercial licence.
Read the Guideline:
Commercial licences will allow for the construction and operation of offshore renewable energy generation projects.
This includes the commercial generation of electricity. They are valid for up to 40 years. These licences will only be available in declared areas and follow the successful assessment of the proposed project during the feasibility licence stage.
A commercial licence cannot be issued unless EPBC Act approvals are granted and the management plan for the proposed project is approved by the Regulator.
Guidelines for administration of these licences are still under development.
When open to applications, these will permit undersea cables to be installed to transmit electricity. Transmission licences will not need to be in a declared area.
Guidelines for administration of these licences are still under development.
When open to applications, these licences will allow the trialling and testing of new offshore renewable energy technologies for up to 10 years.
Read more about the licence application process on the Offshore Infrastructure Registrar’s website.
Administration and Regulation
The OEI Act established the Offshore Infrastructure Registrar and Offshore Infrastructure Regulator.
Offshore Infrastructure Registrar
The Offshore Infrastructure Registrar administers the licensing scheme, including maintaining a register of licences and managing the licence application process.
Learn more about the role of the Offshore Infrastructure Registrar.
Offshore Infrastructure Regulator
The Offshore Infrastructure Regulator is responsible for overseeing work health and safety, infrastructure integrity, and environmental management for offshore infrastructure activities in the Commonwealth offshore area.
Learn more about the role of the Offshore Infrastructure Regulator.
The framework operates on a full cost recovery basis by charging fees and levies to project developers. Cost recovery ensures resourcing to regulate the new offshore industry effectively and efficiently. It also supports the administration of the OEI framework.
In accordance with the Australian Government's Charging Framework a Cost Recovery Implementation Statement (CRIS) has been developed. This sets out the cost recovery activities for the OEI framework. It was approved by the Minister for Climate Change and Energy on 16 September 2022.
The CRIS will be subject to regular reviews to make sure the estimated costs are consistent with the actual effort over time.
If you have difficulty accessing these files, visit web accessibility for assistance.
Environment assessments and approvals of offshore wind projects
Any offshore renewable energy activity that is likely to have a significant impact on a nationally protected matter must undergo an environmental assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) and receive an approval before it can go ahead. Projects must demonstrate how they will ensure impacts to protected matters will not be unacceptable and show how their projects will contribute to nature positive outcomes.
We've prepared a Key Factors Guidance document to support the offshore renewable energy industry.
The Offshore Infrastructure Regulator has released offshore renewables environmental approvals guidance relating to the sequencing of environmental approvals and licensing under OEI legislative framework.
We consulted on offshore electricity infrastructure fees, levies and licences from 22 March to 22 April 2022.
We consulted on the proposed regulatory framework in early 2020.
- Read more about offshore wind in Australia.
- Read more about Australia's offshore wind areas
- Read more about building an offshore wind industry
- Read more about myth busting
- Sign up for our newsletter 'Australian offshore wind news' using our subscription form.
- Learn more about the role of the Offshore Infrastructure Regulator.