HomeScienceEnvironmentArk Energy scales back huge Queensland wind farm to avoid ecological sites

Ark Energy scales back huge Queensland wind farm to avoid ecological sites

A massive wind farm proposed for construction in Queensland’s Tablelands region has been reduced to less than half its original size after cutting 114 of the 200 turbines originally proposed to avoid sensitive environmental and cultural heritage sites.

Project developer Ark Energy – part of the huge Korea Zinc group – said on Thursday the wind farm will still have a maximum generating capacity of 602 MW, which is slightly higher than originally planneddespite the reduction in the number of turbines.

In a new Public Environment Report submitted for review by the federal government, Ark says this output will be achieved with up to 86 wind turbines — fewer than the 95 proposed last year, which were already half of the 200 initially proposed.

The wind turbines will be sized at 7MW, an increase from the 6.5MW turbines proposed last year – and the project will include associated infrastructure, possibly including battery storage.

The changes come after concerns were raised about the potential environmental impact of the development given its close proximity to national parks that are part of the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area.

The project, which came into the hands of Ark Energy through the December 2021 purchase of Epuron, was determined last year to be a “controlled action” under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

This gives the federal government veto power — or approval — of the project, according to an assessment of its impact and ability to deliver a “net positive outcome” for biodiversity over the longer term.

Ark Energy says the project’s most recent design change removed an additional eight wind turbines, resulting in a 17-mile reduction in access roads and a substation relocation that shortened overhead transmission lines by 2.5 miles.

The final proposal also makes an “industry-first” commitment to remediate at least 70% of construction disruption and strategic land-based offsets within the project area, totaling seven times the construction footprint.

The rehabilitation program is intended to be conducted in conjunction with local land care groups and to include Indigenous training and employment opportunities.

“A total of 114 wind turbines from an initial layout of 200 have been removed over the course of the planning and assessment phase of the project to address concerns and mitigate impact,” said a statement on the project website.

“The project is now less than half its original size. It completely avoids all rainforest and the nearest disturbance to the western boundary of the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area is 600m at one site only and nearly 1km or more otherwise.

Ark Energy’s managing director for development in Queensland, Anthony Russo, says the final proposal is the result of two years of ecological assessment work and intensive consultation with a range of stakeholders, including ecologists, traditional owners and the local community.

“Increasing the supply of renewable energy is urgently needed to reduce carbon emissions, replace fossil fuel energy sources and meet the growing demand for electricity,” says Russo.

“Conserving Australia’s natural environment and unique biodiversity is just as important. Achieving these priorities together…requires robust science, an interdisciplinary approach and careful planning and management.”

Russo says the project area for the Chalumbin Wind Farm was chosen for its “excellent” wind resource and high-capacity high-voltage transmission lines, making it imperative to strike a balance between the project’s renewable energy benefits and its inevitable impacts.

“In addition to industry-leading community funding, hundreds of jobs and millions in economic activity, this proposal provides conservation benefits for key species and a path to significant net biodiversity gains in the project area over the longer term,” he says. .

The design of the project Report Public Environment is now on view until December 16.

(This story has been updated to clarify the reduction in the number of turbines and the size of proposed turbines).

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