When Singapore’s Fragrance Group of developers raised the height of the proposed Harmony Hotel building in central Hobart from 120 metres to 210 metres the populace, quite reasonably, had conniptions.
Hobart’s tallest building remains the modest 19-storey Wrest Point Casino tower, just 73 metres high, and many Hobartians want to keep it that way. None of the buildings in Hobart’s CBD is 60 metres tall.
So spare a thought for Tasmania’s Robbins Island. It is about to get UPC Robbins Island Pty Ltd’s 120 towers, each 160 metres high – more than twice the height of the NAB building in Collins St – with ailerons of 110 metres, which will have their tips spinning to the dizzying apex of 270 metres. There will be 200 such towers if the developer gets the Hodgman Government’s tick of approval – and who would doubt that?
Mariners will see this hairbrush of tall towers from 50km out to sea and elevated landlubbers will see it, like it or not, from greater distances on land.
Its eye-catchiness will divert from every coastal scene on the western Bass Strait coastline. The diminutive Nut at Stanley is 143 metres high. With the wind farm on Robbins Island, the Nut will be left the 201st highest coastal structure west of Table Cape (180 metres) if you only consider the towers.
Tasmania already has more than enough electricity to meet its own needs. So the Robbins Island power output is to be exported to the mainland via a new submarine cable.
The Hammond family has owned Robbins Island since 1958, agisting and then farming Wagyu beef cattle. The arrangement between the Hammonds and UPC is not known.
UPC is a multinational corporation which claims that “We are a leading renewable energy developer in the Asia Pacific region with over 20 years of global experience and a proven history of being a successful early entrant in new markets and tackling complex projects”.
UPC has 73 solar and wind projects in 12 countries. Robbins Island would produce 400-1000MW.
The company also says that “UPC-formed companies have developed more than 4500MW operating wind and solar projects and secured more than US$8.4 billion of project debt and equity. UPC now owns operating projects in China, the Philippines and Indonesia and is developing a project pipeline of more than 6GW in Australia, China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Taiwan, Korea and Tunisia.” Perhaps that means the Robbins Island power will cross the equator.
The world needs energy efficiency and renewable energy to replace fossil fuels, and fast. However, as with the Harmony Hotel proposal, this Robbins Island wind farm is an aileron too far.
Firstly, the Tasmanian public, including the people of the North-West of the island, has not been properly informed of the private deals, or public impacts or cost-benefit analyses (economic, social, cultural and environmental) of this, one of the biggest wind farm projects on Earth.
Here are a few concerns. Besides the impact on the coastal scenery, wind turbines kill birds. Wedge-tailed eagle and white-bellied sea eagles nest and hunt on the island. Swift parrots and orange-bellied parrots traverse the island on their migrations.
Multiple species of international migratory, endangered and critically endangered shorebirds use the wetlands for six months of the year: Australian fairy tern, fork-tailed swift, little tern, white-throated needletail, ruddy turnstone, sharp-tailed sandpiper, sanderling, red knot, curlew sandpiper, red-necked stint, great knot, double-banded plover, greater sand plover, lesser sand plover, Latham’s snipe, bar-tailed godwit, eastern curlew, whimbrel, golden plover, grey plover, grey-tailed tattler, common greenshank, terek sandpiper, hooded plover. For which of these species will the wind farm be the thousandth cut?
The transmission lines are planned to cut through wild and scenic Tasmania, including the northeast Tarkine forests and (until local outrage led to a sudden change) the Leven Canyon, en route to Sheffield and then the new export cable beneath Bass Strait. Why not use the more direct, much less environmentally destructive route aligning the Bass Highway? Better still, in the name of private enterprise, why not UPC build its own cable under the Strait from Robbins Island straight to wherever?
Tasmanians have a right to know much more about the Robbins Island development. It is a huge resource extraction venture which will be lighting up no Tasmanian homes. Beyond the indisputable environmental losses, what is the guaranteed money this giant venture is returning to the state of Tasmania as against UPC’s foreign stakeholders?
Former Tasmanian senator and Greens leader, Dr Bob Brown is the founder of the Bob Brown Foundation.
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