South Korean–owned Ark Energy says it is confident its controversial $1 billion Chalumbin wind farm, adjacent to World Heritage-protected rainforests in North Queensland, will be given final approval by the Commonwealth.
In what is expected to be the first of several renewables projects challenged by environmentalists, Ark Energy has significantly scaled back the project from 200 turbines to 86 turbines to appease local concerns and to win the backing of federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek.
But local environmental groups said they remained committed to fighting the 602 megawatt project which requires significant land-clearing to allow road access for the massive wind turbines – which are more than 250 metres high with 90 metre blades – to be delivered to the site.
The Stop Chalumbin Wind Farm group said the scaled back project still risked destroying the ecosystem for a string of animals including the northern greater glider, the red goshawk, magnificent brood frog, the masked owl and the spectacled flying fox.
“Destroying ecology and habitat critical to the survival of endangered species is not ‘green power’,” the group said on its website.
Of the 86 wind turbines, one is only 600 metres away from World Heritage-listed rainforests.
Queensland Conservation Council director Dave Copeman said the group was opposed to the original Chalumbin wind farm proposal, but they were undecided whether to back the scaled-back project.
“We support wind farms – we need gigawatts to transition to net zero – but they need to make sure you don’t damage critical habitat,” Mr Copeman told AFR Weekend.
“They have done the right thing to rework it but we don’t know whether it’s enough. It’s a race for these companies because there is only so much capacity in the transmission lines.”
Ark Energy is the renewable energy arm of Korea Zinc which owns the Sun Metals refinery in Townsville. It has been acquiring wind and solar projects across Australia, including the Chalumbin wind farm which it bought off renewables developer Epuron earlier this year, as well as proposing a $20 billion hydrogen plant.
Ark Energy chief executive Daniel Kim was unavailable to comment, but the company’s general manager of development for Queensland, Anthony Russo, said he was confident the company had done enough to get the final approvals.
He said there had been “heightened public interest” in the Chalumbin project because of its proximity to rainforest, but he said it was a fact the best wind resources in Queensland were along the Great Dividing Range.
“We have mapped the wind resources throughout Queensland where the power lines are and wherever the wind resources are along the Great Dividing Range there is remnant vegetation,” he said.
“Wherever you have a project you’re going to be clearing habitat for protected species of one form or the other. But we have made the decision to reduce the footprint of the site and we think we’ve reached a good outcome.”
Mr Russo said the Chalumbin site was also attractive because of the proximity to high-voltage transmission lines to connect the power to the grid.
About 1071 hectares will be cleared for the project, but he said there would be a significant rehabilitation of vegetation once the turbines were in place.
Cairns and Far North Environmental Centre director Lucy Graham said the Chalumbin wind farm was simply “in the wrong place”.
She said several large wind farms in Far North Queensland, including French company Neoen’s Kaban wind hub, had opened the eyes of many in the region about the scale of deforestation required for wind farms.
“If this project goes ahead it will send a signal that it’s OK to clear remnant forests for renewable energy,” she said.
“We want the transition [to net zero] but this proposal is not our vision for the industry.”
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