A proposed $1.6 billion renewable energy wind farm has received approval, but only if it is shut down for five months each year.
The extraordinary condition was imposed by Tasmania’s Environment Protection Authority to protect orange-bellied parrots on Robbins Island, which lies in Bass Strait off the state’s northwest coast.
High-speed wind turbines pose a major risk to bird life and the five-month hiatus would cover the migration period of the critically endangered parrot, whose case was championed by Greens founder Bob Brown.
According to the approval, the 122 wind turbines would have to be shut down from March 1 to May 31 and also from September 15 to November 15 each year to avoid dismembering the parrot and other bird species.
However, the compromise, in which the project was also approved by the local Main Circular Council in March, has not made the project owner or the local community and environmentalists happy.
A huge new wind farm in Tasmania is only allowed to operate for seven months a year to prevent orange-bellied parrots from being chopped up by the fast-spinning turbines (pictured, wind farm at Granville Harbor in Tasmania)
Those groups filed three separate appeals against the agency’s decision in early March.
Chief operations officer for the farm owner ACEN, David Pollington, said the proposed 122 wind turbines could only operate for seven months a year, but the 900 MW of power they produce would become too expensive.
“We came to the conclusion that the five-month shutdown… simply meant the project couldn’t go ahead,” he told the Renew Economy website.
“I’ve been in the industry for over 30 years now and I’ve never seen anything like it.
“It certainly wasn’t communicated [or] discussed with us in any form during the six years that we worked with the various government departments.’
Mr Pollington also questioned whether restrictions on when the wind farm is operating would spare the orange-bellied parrots.
“It is not known whether they actually cross the island,” he said.
“There are no records of … the last time a bird was seen west of the island was in 2003.”
The fight to save the parrot was led by Bob Brown, who lives in southern Tasmania, through the Bob Brown Foundation.
“This approval is half-baked,” says a spokesperson for the Foundation.
The orange-bellied parrot is an endangered species that environmentalists say is endangered by a wind farm on Robbins Island in Tasmania
“They have approved the largest wind farm in the southern hemisphere, in Australia’s main migratory bird routes, without knowing how many turbines, the size of the turbines, the colour, the lighting or even where they will be placed.
“What exactly did they approve?”
The Tasmanian Greens also oppose the project at the proposed site.
Greens MP Rosalie Woodruff said Robbins Island is “simply the wrong place” for a wind farm, arguing it will have “significant impacts on the many other species that inhabit this internationally important island ecosystem.”
“Robbins Island is also an incredibly important area for the Tasmanian Aboriginal community, with dozens of cultural heritage sites already identified in preliminary field surveys,” she said.
The Bob Brown Foundation claimed that at least 30 other bird species, many of which are endangered, are also threatened by the wind turbines.
“This is a bad project compounded by a system that has pushed an approval out the door without even the basic information needed to assess its impact,” the spokesman said.
These concerns are also shared by local conservation groups such as the Circular Head Coastal Awareness Network and BirdLife Tasmania.
The network is also protesting the “deplorable” visual impact of the turbines on the natural environment.
“The wind turbines fail to minimize the visual impact on the wider landscape,” said Chief Councilor Steve Pilkington, who is a member of the network.
‘The approved turbines are up to 270 meters high.
“It is the wrong location for a large-scale industrial wind farm as approved by the council and we have a lot of community support to challenge this appalling approval.”
The council voted to approve the project by a vote of five to one, although three council members withdrew citing conflicts of interest.
Tony Hine, chief councilor of the circular, described the wind farm on Robbins Island as a ‘critical thing for Tasmania’.
“Somewhere along the line, we should try to generate the electricity that will allow you to cook your toast in the morning, and all that sort of thing,” he said.
“We have to keep moving forward. This project is shovel ready.’
The environmental protection authority said it had received 383 comments on the project.
These related to possible impacts on endangered birds and animals, the threat to native vegetation and noise emissions.
The founder of the Greens, Bob Brown, is an outspoken opponent of the wind farm on Robbins Island
However, the authority concluded that the wider benefits of the wind farm “outweigh the low level of mitigated risk” to the parrot.
“Benefits include making a significant contribution to Tasmania’s economy, as well as making a major contribution to the renewable energy available to both Tasmania and mainland Australia, reducing dependence on fossil fuels,” the EPA report said.
ACEN, owned by Power China Group and Goldwind Capital Australia, welcomed the decision.
Mr Pollington called it ‘an exciting next step in the project’s journey that will help lower electricity prices for all Tasmanians’.
Under the approved proposal, 122 wind turbines will be spread across the western two-thirds of the island with associated battery storage.
The new wind farm would be adjacent to Jim’s Plain Renewable Energy Park, also owned by ACEN, which will include up to 31 wind turbines and solar power up to 240 MW.
Three substations would also be built on Robbins Island, along with underground electrical infrastructure, a bridge to the mainland and a wharf for the delivery of project components.
A new transmission line from Robbins Island Road to Sheffield will also be required to transmit the electricity generated, but this is a separate project subject to its own environmental impact assessments.