Rushing to accelerate renewable projects can destroy habitat

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It’s more than a philosophical question, because in one case, that’s exactly what could happen.

The answers are somewhat complex, not only for the state and federal governments, but also for environmental groups as Queensland enters an era of massive change and investment in renewable energy.

But environmentalists argue there is a bigger problem. They suggest there is a rush to get projects approved ahead of major reforms highlighted in the Samuel review and critical habitat destroyed.

Most of the planned renewable energy projects shade existing transmission lines within renewable energy zones.

A report written last year by Jeanette Kemp, a former Queensland government chief botanist, said the compromises made were inexplicable given the very high price the community would pay from species loss and environmental degradation.

She said the “attack” of renewable projects being accelerated in Queensland included many that were located in high-quality stretches of pristine vegetation, many with “highly significant conservation values”.

She said 26 rare ecosystems are likely to be affected in some way if all proposals go through and 15 ecosystems classified as “of concern” would see more than 5 percent of their size erased.

A further 18 endangered species would likely exist within or very close to the footprint of one or more of the north Queensland wind farm proposals.

“I am a supporter of renewable energy, particularly wind farms: however, I strongly suggest that all government agencies and concerned non-governmental organizations urgently call for a review of the local impact of all current proposals in Queensland that address remnant vegetation,” she said.

Creeping environmental impact

Therein lies the problem. Australia needs renewable energy, but the rush to meet deadlines could have serious consequences for the environment.

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Significantly, one of the largest backers of renewable energy projects is state-owned generation companies through offtake agreements or equity partnerships.

Like the development of the coal gas projects more than a decade ago, it is the creeping cumulative effects that worry environmentalists.

Queensland Conservation Council strategist Clare Silcock said the issue was “definitely complicated, but there are a lot of steps we think the government can take to manage the fallout”.

She said the renewable energy zones where the government wanted the projects to be located were “just circles on a map” and that work needed to be done on what existed within those circles.

“Just circles on a map”: There are concerns that little attention is paid to what lies within the areas cleared for renewable energy projects. Photo: AAP

The state government has announced it is working on “bioregional” planning to protect areas that matter while enabling faster development decisions.

The bioregional plans would be designed to better protect areas of environmental importance and to enable faster development decisions. Bioregional plans would also meet the new standards.

When the idea was announced in December, the state’s environment minister, Meaghan Scanlon, said the bioregional plans provide developers and environmental consultants with clear guidance on areas to protect, areas that can be rapidly tracked for development, and areas where development can proceed with caution.

Accelerated areas may allow certain types of development to proceed without further Australian government approval.

The bioregional plans would “consider cumulative environmental impacts and future threats as a way to build ecological resilience in a changing climate. That’s what these plans will address,” Ms. Scanlon said.

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Quick action needed

But everything related to the government process is slow.

“We are losing time. We have advised the government that they need to get on top of this,” Ms Silcock said.

Ark Energy is one of the leading advocates of sustainable projects in the state. The proposed wind and solar farms are huge as the company breaks new ground in decarbonising the operations of its owner Korea Zinc, who also owns the Townsville-based nickel refinery Sun Metals.

Two of his projects, the Boomer Range wind farm in central Queensland and the Chalumbin wind farm, near Ravenshoe, have drawn fire from environmental groups over potential habitat destruction.

The Boomer project would destroy 925 acres of koala habitat, according to documents it filed with the federal government.

But the company points out that its early studies at Boomer to date have found no koalas, only traces of their existence, and it claims it can “largely avoid” sensitive areas under development.

Companies claim they can avoid environmentally sensitive areas. Photo: Getty

“During the design and planning process, the project team will continue to adhere to the ecological principles of avoidance, minimization and mitigation, including minimizing construction disruption and mitigation measures such as the use of sensitive cleanup techniques,” Ark said in a statement to In Queensland.

“In general, a goal of all Ark Energy renewable energy projects is to achieve net positive outcomes for the environment and biodiversity in the project area over the longer term.”

Biodiversity costs

The cumulative impact of all the projects was staggering and had not been factored into the approval process, said Rainforest Reserves Australia co-founder Steven Nowakowski.

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Mapping of many of the areas was also sparse, so knowledge of the habitats was thin, he said.

The Upper Burdekin project, developed by Andrew Forrest’s Windlab, borders the Wet Tropics World Heritage area.

About 130 turbines would be built and 887 hectares of vegetation would be cleared. It also has significant koala habitat.

The Ark’s Chalumbin project, near the Wet Tropics area, would have 86 turbines and clear 1700 hectares of what Rainforest Reserves Australia said was an area of ​​high biodiversity.

Dozens more projects are scattered across the state and Mr. Nowakowski said they were largely built in ridges that were hitherto untouched.

“There is a cost to biodiversity,” he said.

“There must be areas that are out of bounds.”

“The Kaban project (also near Ravenshoe) has shaken everyone up,” he said.

Kaban’s owner, Neoen, said on his website that “we consider that the immediate and long-term benefits that wind farms bring to communities will outweigh any loss of visual amenity”.

Kaban is small by wind farm standards. Only 28 wind turbines spread over 1,300 acres, but the scars it left on the landscape shocked environmentalists.

He said one answer to habitat loss was the CopperString project, a transmission line from Mt Isa to Townsville and passing through an area rich in solar radiation and wind, but with little habitat for endangered species.

However, CopperString is not a certainty despite the political backing it has and has already been squashed once.

This article first appeared in In Queensland. Read the original article here