MATTHEW DENHOLM THE AUSTRALIAN
Regulators should consider the cumulative impacts of wind farms on birds before approving new turbines, or risk driving species to extinction, a prominent conservation ecologist warns.
Jamie Kirkpatrick, from the University of Tasmania, yesterday said federal and state environmental assessments typically examined the impact on threatened species of single projects only. “This is really a failure of the process because one swift parrot here or one eagle there is not of great moment, but when you have it repeated and repeated you soon get to a critical level,” Professor Kirkpatrick said.
In Tasmania, 10 new wind farms are proposed or under construction, adding to a number of existing major turbine sites, three of which have killed at least 37 eagles since 2002. There are fears the wind farm boom will push endangered species such as the Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle, swift parrot and orange-bellied parrot closer to extinction.
Professor Kirkpatrick urged the federal and state governments to ensure assessment of the new projects considered the wider impact of similar developments on bird populations.
Wind farms are typically approved on the condition proponents take measures to mitigate or offset expected impacts on local threatened bird species.
Professor Kirkpatrick said this did not address the bigger picture of wind farm impacts: “The individual small impacts of each one is theoretically bearable but when you consider the cumulative impact, they are not. It’s only when you start adding them up and look at the overall fecundity of that species that it starts to become really concerning.”
Tasmanian Environment Minister Peter Gutwein defended the adequacy of existing state assessments: “Large-scale wind farm developments are subject to rigorous assessments and environmental approvals, with the opportunity for public submissions. The government has complete confidence in the ability of the independent Environment Protection Agency to assess any major wind farm proposals.”
Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley said the impact of wind farms on threatened species was already a “key factor” in assessment: “A proposed wind farm development is not considered in isolation. In regions where there are a number of wind farms, existing levels of impact on threatened bird species may be considered.
“When a nationally listed bird species is in small numbers nationally, or its distribution or habitat is limited, or if the habitat has particular importance for the species, wind farm activity could have a significant impact, and this is taken into account.”
Last month, The Weekend Australian revealed Woolnorth Wind Farm Holdings’ two sites in the state’s northwest had recorded three eagle deaths in the past few months. It was also revealed the company’s wider operations, including a third wind farm in the state’s northeast, had combined recorded the deaths of 32 wedge-tailed eagles and five white-bellied sea eagles since the first site began operating in 2002-04.