The federal government has rejected plans by renewable energy developer Epuron to build an 81-turbine wind farm in Central Queensland, ruling the project “clearly unacceptable” for its potential impact on threatened native animal species, including the koala.
The Lotus Creek wind farm had been proposed by Epuron for mostly cattle-grazing land 20km west of St Lawrence, “to produce clean and low-cost electricity” from “consistent winds” that blow across the nearby Connors Range.
The around 200MW project would have required the clearing of old-growth forest in the Clarke-Connors Range, including – as noted by Epuron in its application to the department of Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation – 632ha of land deemed as “suitable” habitat for koalas.
But this was last week ruled out by federal environment minister Sussan Ley as likely to have “clearly unacceptable impacts” on koala populations so recently decimated by bushfires around the country, as well as on other listed threatened species including the greater glider.
“There was a clear presence of species whose populations have been impacted by bushfires and that was an important consideration,” Ley told The Australian.
“It is open to the proponent to consider whether it wishes to put forward an alternative proposal.”
The EPBC decision said the proposed area to be cleared was judged to be unique for the quality of its habitat, the number and density of nationally protected threatened species and future value of the site as a refuge habitat. It said suitable off-set areas could not be identified.
The decision – while good news for koalas and old-growth forests – marks somewhat of an about-face for the Morrison government, which recently instructed its environment department to look at the EPBC Act of 1999 “with fresh eyes,” with a particular view to cutting “green tape” and minimising “environmental lawfare” as it gears up for a gas-led economic recovery.
“The Prime Minister says we need to look at everything with fresh eyes, and coming out of Covid-19 there is no better candidate than the 20-year-old [Environmental protection] EPBC Act,” said Ley in November.
“The last thing I want to see is unnecessary blockages getting in the way of key projects at the time of recovery.”
As RenewEconomy reported at the time, Ley appointed former ACCC chief Graeme Samuel to head a statutory review into the EPBC Act, with clear instructions that the practice of the Act being used as the basis for legal challenges to development proposals, particularly coal mining projects, needed to end.
This push directly ignored the calls from a group of 248 environmental scientists, who wrote to the environment minister in October, and stressed the urgency to consider the current threats to the environment, and the threats being posed to many threatened species.
Epuron, whose Australian renewables portfolio includes the White Rock, Gullen Range and Liverpool wind farms, has not yet formally responded to the EPBC decision.
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