Robbins Island wind farm developer seeks to remove shutdown clause designed to protect orange-bellied parrot
A company planning to build a wind farm on Robbins Island in Tasmania’s north-west has argued that the collision death of an orange-bellied parrot would not have a “statistical effect” on the birds’ long-term survival.
ACEN Australia’s 100-turbine 720-megawatt proposal on the island sits in the middle of the parrot’s believed path for its annual return migration between Tasmania and Victoria.
But due to its low numbers and high death rate for juveniles – four out of five released from captivity fail to complete their first migration – it is rarely sighted in the wild, including on Robbins Island.
It is estimated there are just 77 adult orange-bellied parrots left in the wild, but ACEN has questioned whether potential collisions with its turbines would have an effect on the species’ survival.
The parrot – one of Australia’s most critically endangered species – is central to a planning appeal against the wind farm’s approval, with hearings starting in Hobart this week.
Tasmania’s Environment Protection Authority (EPA) required the wind farm to shut down for five months of the year to minimise the risk of collisions.
ACEN is appealing this condition, arguing this would make the proposal unviable.
Conservationists argue the survival of the parrots is more important than the wind farms’ viability.
Michael O’Farrell SC, acting for ACEN, told the tribunal that the parrots faced other risks during their migration, which outweighed the wind farm.
“Unless there is an improvement in juvenile survival rate, the orange-bellied parrot will remain dependent on the release of captive breeding birds to avoid extinction,” he said.
“There is no clear evidence … that the possible death of one orange-bellied parrot, or any particular greater number of orange-bellied parrots, due to a collision with a wind turbine on Robbins Island would have any statistically significant effect on the survival of the species, let alone lead to its demise.”
As a condition, ACEN proposed to provide funding to the publicly-funded captive breeding program and to provide monitoring if a parrot collides with a turbine.
Mr O’Farrell described any death of any orange-bellied parrot as “undesirable”.
Foraging habits in danger, tribunal told
But David Deller – acting for the Bob Brown Foundation, which is appealing the wind farm’s approval – said a death would instead be “catastrophic”.
He said any changes to the landscape in the parrot’s migratory path could have impacts beyond collisions, causing them to find different foraging grounds and harming their survival chances.
“The orange-bellied parrots are in an extinction prevention and recovery phase,” Mr Deller told the tribunal.
“Science is doing its best to avoid the extinction of this critically endangered species, and the contrast couldn’t be more stark.
“The future viability of this critically endangered species is more important than the viability of – what’s accepted to be – an important wind farm.”
In the 2022-23 season, 77 out of 140 orange-bellied parrots returned in their annual migration. There are several hundred juveniles in captivity.
In his opening address, Mr O’Farrell outlined the growing need for more renewable energy in Tasmania, and across Australia in the transition away from fossil fuels.
He highlighted how investment in wind energy was facing increasing barriers.
Mr O’Farrell said the impacts of climate change would be more detrimental to critically endangered species like the orange-bellied parrot, compared with the potential harms of turbine collisions.
ACEN reduced the size of the Robbins Island wind farm from 122 turbines down to 100, and decreased the maximum height from 270 metres to 212 metres.
Mr Deller said the Bob Brown Foundation was not opposed to renewable energy, but that it should not create added risks to endangered species.
“Renewable energy is a good thing obviously. Wind farms are a good thing obviously. This wind farm in this location is not a good thing for the environment,” he said.
Why pay to preserve then kill, locals ask
The wind farm also faces local opposition, with the Circular Head Coastal Awareness Network among the groups appealing the project’s approval.
Acting for the network, Tom Ellicott said ACEN’s suggested funding for the captive breeding program was inappropriate, with the program at capacity.
“It simply makes no sense to pay public money to preserve a species, and then allow private development to pay to kill the same species,” he said.
The tribunal was told that the EPA’s five-month shutdown condition was added after the Commonwealth became involved in the matter.
The hearings continue.
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