A $500 million Victorian wind farm is at the mercy of a bat found throughout northern Australia and listed as of “least concern” on a threatened species scale.
The yellow-bellied sheathtail bat has contributed to a ruling to delay the 89-turbine Dundonnell project, in the state’s southwest, until a detailed environmental study is done.
The bat, which can infect people with the rabies-like lyssavirus, has bobbed up in planning seven years after the orange-bellied parrot caused a stir in wind farm approvals.
The Australian Museum said it sounded “unusual” the bat species was highlighted for a project in southwest Victoria, where it is rarely sighted.
Victorian Greens leader Greg Barber dismissed the need for a study, saying if there were any real concerns for the species’ survival he would be “on to it like a seagull on to a hot chip”.
The decision to order an environmental effects statement was made by Planning Minister Matthew Guy on January 21.
The notice cites concerns about brolgas and volcanic landscapes, and “the potential for significant impacts on the little known yellow-bellied sheathtail bat is highly uncertain”.
Australian Museum naturalist Martyn Robinson pointed the Sunday Herald Sun towards the internationally respected IUCN “red list” of threatened species, which has the bat at “least concern” of extinction. The IUCN says the bat is “common in the northern part of its Australian range, but in southeastern Australia it is very rare”.
“It has a relatively wide distribution, is tolerant of a broad range of habitats, has a presumed large population, and . . . is unlikely to be declining fast enough to qualify for listing in a threatened category,” it says.
Mr Robinson said possible migratory patterns of the bat caused concerns for planners but it was “unusual to have anything specifically recorded”.
Mr Barber said the wind farm should be approved.
“I’m a pretty big greenie, and if I thought there was any real risk to any species with this project, I’d be on to it like a seagull on to a hot chip,” he said.
“The real threat to native wildlife is continued clearing of bushlands . . . (and) climate change.”
Mr Guy said the yellow-bellied sheathtail bat was endangered under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988, and the environmental study would “clarify the level of potential risk to the species from the construction of the wind farm”.
Ernst Weyhausen, director of wind farm development owner NewEn, said the project, which is worth about $500 million, would provide at least 120 construction jobs and 15 permanent jobs in the area.
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