A tiny, nationally endangered lizard has forced one of the world’s largest independent renewable energy companies to significantly redesign a $300 million wind farm proposed for South Australia’s Mid North.
A planning survey in 2016-17 discovered 115 palmsized pygmy blue tongue lizards across the proposed wind farm site of 5600 hectares at St Kitts, 80km north east of Adelaide.
RES Australia Pty Ltd has reduced its Twin Creek Wind Farm footprint from 90 wind turbines to 51, largely because of the unexpected find.
The wind farm developer has also revised its plans 25 times and removed an access road to accommodate the endangered inhabitants, protected by the Environment Protection Biodiversity and Conservation Act (EPBCA).
“It is quite an important site for the species,” pygmy blue tongue lizard recovery team chairman and SA Museum head of earth and biological sciences Dr Mark Hutchinson said.
Dr Hutchinson said the pygmy blue tongue lizard colony found at the proposed wind farm site was the most southern, and the third largest known group in SA.
He said pygmy bluetongue lizards and wind farms could coexist, however great care was needed during construction not to disturb the lizards or their habitat – “It can be very destructive if not done sympathetically.”
Detailed flora and fauna assessment reports by EBS Ecology, on behalf of RES Australia, found the wind farm could cause: Loss of pygmy blue tongue lizards through habitat clearance and construction, sedimentation of burrows; division and isolation of sub-populations by access tracks; noise disturbance from construction and turbines; and disruption from blade shadow flicker.
“It’s a no-brainer that it is not a suitable site for a wind farm – find somewhere else,” Hansborough and Districts Residents Group spokesman Mary Morris said.
RES Australia Twin Creek development project manager Daniel Leahy said the turbines and associated infrastructure, including access tracks and cabling, would be relocated to the northern part of the site to avoid impacts to lizards.
He said the wind farm had been designed with at least a 100m relocation buffer within which turbines and access tracks could be moved to avoid individual lizards found following a pre-construction survey.
Mr Leahy said the wind farm would occupy less than two per cent of the site area and that RES Australia was proposing a dedicated conservation area for the lizards. “We wouldn’t submit planning for this project if we thought there was a significant environmental risks to any protected flora or fauna species,” he said.
The State Commission Assessment Panel is due to make a decision on the wind farm proposal later this year, following advice from statutory bodies including the EPBCA advisory panel.