Adani objects to Gupta solar farm in Whyalla, worried about birds

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The irony. Adani, fighting protests over its huge Queensland coal mine, opposes Gupta solar farm in South Australia because of concerns about grass wrens and thornbills.

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Gupta's solar farm in orange, Adani's in blue.
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The Indian energy giant Adani, the proponent of the controversial Carmichael coal project in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, has raised objections to a large solar farm proposed by Sanjeev Gupta’s Simec Energy near Whyalla – because it says it is worried about the impact on two bird species.

The objection is revealed in planning documents filed to South Australia’s State Planning Commission, and refers to the 280MW Cultana solar farm, designed to provide power to the Whyalla Steelworks, and which just happens to be located right next to a 132MW solar project proposed by Adani Renewables.

The planning documents show that Adani was the only party to raise concerns about the planning approval for the $350 million project, and its particular focus was on the impact on the threatened Western Grass Wren and the slender-billed Thornbill.

It also expressed concern about the impact of dust, and the site entry, as well as the impact on Aboriginal cultural heritage. It asked whether the project should be referred to the federal minister for environment under the EPBC Act.

Many will find this ironic, because Adani has been furiously fighting its own battles for the Carmichael coal project in the Galilee Basin, and against concerns about that mine’s impact on southern black throated Finch, impacts on the water table and on Aboriginal heritage, and what it means for the struggle to reduce emissions and address climate change.

What about me?

Federal environment minister Melissa Price recently granted key approvals to the Adani mine, despite concerns raised by the CSIRO. The approval came two days before the election was called, and on the morning that the CSIRO was due to testify on the matter to a Senate committee. New documents point to further questions about the approval.

Former Greens leader Bob Brown on Wednesday began a three week Stop Adani Convoy from Tasmania to the mine site in Queensland, and then back to Canberra, in protest against the mine. The Coalition government and the Murdoch media are just as furiously supporting the coal project.

Simec Energy responded to Adani’s concerns by making some adjustments to the design of the project, reducing the visual impact on Adani’s solar farm, and sought an independent assessment. Surveys found no evidence of either wrens or thornbills at the site, but did observe kangaroos, reptiles, one fox and a rabbit.

Still, Adani insisted on making a direct submission to the State Commission Assessment Panel, and the panel’s minutes from the April 11 hearing show that Adani executive Trish Auld was the only non-Simec party to speak on the proposal.

The commission has kept secret its decision until it is ratified by the state’s energy minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan, who is also the local member.

The Cultana solar farm is key to Gupta’s plans to build 1GW of solar and storage facilities to power the Whyalla Steelworks, which he bought out of administration in late 2017, and also provide cheaper power to other big energy users.

It will be paired with a 100MW/100MWh big battery to be located next to the now closed coal generators in Port Augusta, and which is also going through the planning approval process.

An accompanying proposal for a big pumped hydro project in an old iron ore mine  has also been shortlisted for the Coalition government’s underwriting new generation investment program (UNGI), although the fate of that program rests with the outcome of the election.

The Cultana solar project will comprise 925,000 solar PV panels mounted on single axis tracking structures and will be split over two neighbouring sites, a 210MW “north” facility” and a 70MW “south” facility across the road. The north site is covered in Acacia woodlands and salt bush, while the southern site is a disused dairy farm.

The project was to have its own battery, but will instead use the Playford facility planned to be sited next to the Davenport sub-station in Port Augusta.

That facility has been rated at 100MW/100MWh. meaning that it will not, as once indicated, beat the so-called Tesla big battery located next to the Hornsdale wind farm, which remains – for the moment – the world’s biggest lithium-ion battery at 100MW/129MWh.

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