Former Greens leader and veteran activist Bob Brown is campaigning to stop a $1.6 billion wind farm development in Tasmania because it will spoil the view and kill birds.
The proposed Robbins Island wind farm in Tasmania’s northwest will be one of the world’s biggest, with up to 200 towers measuring 270m high from ground to blade tip.
If it goes ahead, electricity from the Robbins Island project will be sent to the mainland via a new undersea cable to help make Tasmania a “battery for the nation”.
But in a letter to local media and on his foundation’s website, Dr Brown has slammed the project, which he said had echoes of earlier attempts to build skyscrapers in Hobart which were stopped by protests.
Despite the criticisms levelled at former prime minister Tony Abbott and treasurer Joe Hockey for describing wind turbines as “ugly”, Dr Brown said the Robbins Island plan was, visually, a step too far. “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,” Dr Brown said. “Its eye-catchiness will divert from every coastal scene on the western Bass Strait coastline.”
Dr Brown, who fought against Queensland’s Adani coal mine, said the world needed renewable energy to replace fossil fuels, and fast, but the Robbins Island wind farm “is an aileron too far”.
He said the public had not been properly informed of the private deals, or public impacts or cost-benefit analyses (economic, social, cultural and environmental) of what would be one of the biggest wind farm projects on Earth. He said details of the arrangements between the Hammond family, which farmed wagyu beef and owned the land, and developer UPC Renewables were not known. “Tasmanians have a right to know much more about the Robbins Island development,” Dr Brown said. “It is a huge resource extraction venture which will be lighting up no Tasmanian homes.”
Dr Brown’s opposition is shared by some locals, including the Nietta Action Group, which is fighting both the wind farm and a transmission line.
Members of the Nietta Action Group told The Australian last month that natural values would be destroyed if the planned transmission line across Leven Canyon went ahead. Others have raised concerns about whether a walled causeway to the island, as part of the project, would interrupt tidal flows, damaging the vital sandflat ecosystems.
However, Anton Rohner, chief executive of UPC Renewables, and the Hammond wagyu beef farming family, last month told The Australian expert modelling suggested several bridge sections in the causeway would avoid adverse impacts.
“We are cattle people; we love the environment,” said Alex Hammond. “Part of our brand, which sells our beef around the world, is that we are in the cleanest, greenest area in the world.
“So we certainly don’t want to do anything to impact on that.” Dr Brown sparked anger in central Queensland during the election campaign when he led a convoy of anti-coal activists to coalmining towns in protest against the Adani coalmine. The intervention was credited by some pundits with driving voters away from Labor and to the Coalition in the May 18 election.
In his letter on the wind farm, Dr Brown wrote: “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.”
He listed the multiple species of international migratory, endangered and critically endangered shorebirds that used the wetlands for six months of the year. They included 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?” Dr Brown asked.
He said the transmission lines for the wind farm were planned to cut through wild and scenic Tasmania, including the northeast Tarkine forests, to link up with a new export cable beneath Bass Strait. “In the name of private enterprise, why not UPC build its own cable under the Strait from Robbins Island straight to wherever,” Dr Brown said.
UPC said the project was located close to the Australian Energy Market Operator’s (AEMO) proposed second interconnector between Tasmania and Victoria.
“Once built, it will complement the Prime Minister’s recently announced strategy for Tasmanian wind and hydro systems to act as southeast Australia’s renewable energy battery,” the company said. The project faces local and federal regulatory hurdles and unrest about the citing of both the Robbins Island wind farms and the transmission line. Dr Brown said Tasmania already had more than enough electricity to meet its own needs and UPC was a multinational corporation with projects in China, The Philippines and Indonesia.
“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?’’ he asked.
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