A contentious wind farm proposed for Tasmania’s north-western tip has been given the green light from the state’s environmental watchdog, but under the condition that it does not operate for almost half the year.
- A proposed 900-megawatt wind farm in Tasmania is in the migration area for the critically endangered orange-bellied parrot species
- The project has won environmental regulatory approval — if it shuts down for five months every year during the bird’s migratory season
- The company behind the wind farm says the turbines “aren’t so lucrative that we could get away with only running them for half the time”
Philippines-based multinational renewables company ACEN has sought approval to build a wind farm with up to 122 turbines on Robbins Island and a parcel of land called Jim’s Plain, north-west of Smithton.
The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has granted conditional approval for the project, which has been vehemently opposed by environmentalists and some Circular Head residents.
The proposed site of the farm is a migration area for the critically endangered orange-bellied parrot.
EPA director Wes Ford said the board thoroughly researched and considered the issue and decided the wind farm would not be able to operate during the bird’s migration window.
“Literally everything you read says Robbins Island is important for the orange-bellied parrot, which are covered by a national recovery plan that’s jointly signed by the state and the Commonwealth, and the Commonwealth minister can’t approve a project that’s inconsistent with that recovery plan,” he said.
“The board decided the only appropriate mitigating strategy is to have a shutdown for a period of five months every year.”
Mr Ford said the decision of the board “should appease environmental concerns”.
“In the seven and a half years that I’ve been involved as the director of the EPA, this is by far the most significant and comprehensive assessment that the EPA has undertaken.”
The EPA has also imposed conditions around the protection of wedge-tailed eagles, sea eagles, Tasmanian devils, management of construction work, noise emissions and water pollution.
Some 383 representations were received during the public consultation period in January and February 2022.
If approved by all the relevant authorities, the wind farm would be built in two stages to generate 900 megawatts of electricity, and would include other infrastructure including a bridge across Robbins Passage, a wharf, electrical infrastructure and operational facilities.
Shutdown condition ‘problematic’
Chief operations officer for ACEN Australia, David Pollington, said while he was still making his way through 33 pages of conditions in the documents and was “very excited” the project had been approved, the five-month annual shutdown condition was “completely unexpected” .
“The wind turbines aren’t so lucrative that we could get away with only running them for half the time so that, in its current form, would be problematic for us and we’ll need to consider our options going forward.”
He conceded it could impact the viability of the project, but wasn’t yet sure how much.
“We haven’t really yet analyzed the impacts of that and how we would manage that, so I really don’t have a view at this point.”
“The condition can be removed by the board subject to the provision of suitable evidence so it could be possible to provide such evidence,” he said.
Mr Pollington said he was confident in the veracity of the data they provided the EPA, which amounted to about 3,000 pages.
He also said the backlash to the project was from a “noisy minority”.
“The difficulty is the vast majority of people who’ve been supportive don’t actually say things and don’t write letters to the editor.”
The project still needs planning approval from the Circular Head Council and federal environmental approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
Circular Head Mayor Gerard Blizzard said the project would likely go before the council next year.
“Our staff will review it and will report back to the council,” he said.
“We have got a process that we must go through and part of that is first understanding where it is at and what the conditions are.”