No planning for renewable energy projects on the Atherton Tablelands

No planning for renewable energy projects on the Atherton Tablelands

Climate change is delivering unprecedented climate patterns across Australia. The use of fossil fuels is now directly proven to be a key driver in climate change and has resulted in a 1.5C temperature rise since the industrial revolution. To keep temperatures below 2C is a herculean task.

The transition to zero emission renewable energy is now finally occurring. This comes with its own challenges. Industrial scale renewable projects are sometimes in the wrong locations.

There is a pipeline of over $6 billion worth of industrial scaled projects—most earmarked for the southern Atherton Tablelands with six projects imminent. It is calculated that 13,100 hectares of remnant, and 12,900 hectares of non-remnant vegetation will be cleared across Queensland, with the majority in North Queensland.

Proponents of these large-scale wind and solar farms are cherry-picking the easiest locations to place these developments along existing transmission lines. It is highly unfortunate that the main transmission line to Cairns hugs the western boundary of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. Here conflict arises between conservation of high bio-diverse habitat and the proposed industrial scaled wind farms.

Two projects proposed, Chalumbin and Upper Burdekin, would clear almost 3,000 hectares of remnant vegetation and vital habitat for many endangered species. Fragmentation of the forests would also leads to weed incursions, altered fire regimes and forest edge affects altering forests for up to 100m beyond the road edge. Chalumbin, for example, requires 146km of new internal haulage roads at up to 70m wide in places.

These projects generally go through local council as Code Assessable under local planning schemes and are fast tracked through the Integrated Planning Act. At state level, there is a planning guideline called “State Code 23 for wind farms” which is a deficient, outdated and flawed instrument. It is at federal level that these projects usually become known to the wider public. By this stage, it can be too late, particularly if the only legislation to be used is the flawed Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act.

The solution to this madness is an overarching planning policy for the roll out of renewables.
A moratorium is needed on any industrial scaled projects adjacent to the Wet Tropics World Heritage until a proper planning scheme is developed.

Can you imagine 239 turbines (Chalumbin and Upper Burdekin combined) abutting the Tasmanian World Heritage Area, or Kakadu World heritage Area, or Blue Mountains World Heritage Area? The Wet Tropics World Heritage deserves better!

A master plan for Queensland can be developed that highlights high bio-diverse areas, state-wide wildlife corridors, and places of high cultural significance, overlaid with high wind resource and solar opportunities. The land outside of these areas could be open/suitable for the roll out of renewables. If this is not done, land use conflict with nature protection will persist with greater intensity in the coming years.

Steven Nowakowski nature photographer & publisher.

This article was first published in The Kuranda Paper April 2022 #341.

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