6 December 2023

TasCAT overturns enforced five-month annual shutdown of planned Robbins Island Wind Farm

| Andrew McLaughlin
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wind turbines

Concept art of how the Robbins Island wind turbines will look when complete. Image: ACEN.

The Tasmanian Government has welcomed the decision by the Tasmanian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (TasCAT) to overturn a five-month annual shutdown condition imposed on the planned Robbins Island Wind Farm.

When the 100-turbine wind farm was approved off Tasmania’s north-west coast in 2022, it was on the condition from the Federal Environment Protection Authority that it be shut down for five months a year to coincide with the migration of the critically endangered orange-bellied parrot, which flies to the mainland every year.

The action against the shutdown was taken in TasCAT by the project’s builder ACEN Australia. TasCAT found in favour of ACEN Australia, saying the 900 MW project posed a “very low” risk to the recovery of the parrot and should not be refused on that basis.

In making its decision, TasCAT said it had taken into account offsets offered by ACEN towards parrot conservation and that the company had also proposed contributing $250,000 towards a parrot radio tracking program.

“Those offsets have the potential to improve the body of knowledge of (the parrots) in a way that could lead to more protective measures and consequential reductions in non-breeding area mortalities generally,” it said.

READ ALSO Tasmania boosts plantation log industry due to impending shutdown of WA and Victoria’s native forest logging

Premier Jeremy Rockliff said the decision was a pragmatic outcome that got the balance right while noting the challenges of the national energy transition. He said that, as the nation’s leader in renewable energy, the Tasmanian Government recognises the economic development and job creation that the sector holds.

“As our state grows, our energy demand is also growing, and we will need more energy to continue to meet Tasmania’s needs,” he said.

“Today’s decision recognises that an appropriate balance needs to be struck between enabling renewable energy projects and protecting our native species.

“As a government and as a society, we have responsibilities to both,” he added. “Our government understands the need for greater renewable supply, and we cannot allow single-minded agendas to override the best interests of all Tasmanians.

“We are looking forward to continuing to work with ACEN to bring both the Robbins Island and Jim’s Plains wind farms online.”

Minister for Energy and Renewables Nick Duigan welcomed the decision as a positive step in the state’s renewable agenda. “I’m pleased that common sense has prevailed, and this project can now proceed to the next stage,” he said.

“Our government will continue working closely with ACEN and other proponents in the region to ensure the supporting infrastructure needed for these projects proceeds.”

orange-bellied parrot

There are believed to be fewer than 80 orange-bellied parrots left in the wild. Photo: Facebook.

However, the Bob Brown Foundation said the proposal was a calamity and would prove destructive for the parrot and other wildlife, including wedge-tailed eagles and Tasmanian devils.

“Instead of turning off wasted electricity, we will wreck another surviving stronghold of natural wildlife diversity in Australia,” Dr Brown said.

The project still has to be signed off by the Commonwealth, and Premier Rockliff said he would seek urgent talks with the Federal Government to better coordinate environmental approvals for renewable energy projects.

“Our government understands that getting projects approved under Federal environmental law has been challenging and we call on the Federal Government to work with us on solutions,” he said.

“Where there are matters of national interest, like renewable energy supply and native species, Tasmania cannot do it alone. We need the Federal Government to work with us and share the responsibility of striking the right balance.

“All of Australia needs to do more to ensure we have the energy supply we need for our future.”

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