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Koalas take precedence over proposed $100m wind farm

A $100m wind farm development in Queensland has been rejected by Environment Minister Sussan Ley because of its potential impact on bushfire-ravaged koalas.

The 81-turbine Lotus Creek wind farm, 175km northwest of Rockhampton, was denied environmental approval under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act because it would have an unacceptable impact on threatened species.

The wind farm, planned by renewable energy company Epuron, would have involved the clearing of old growth forest in North Queensland’s Clarke-Connors Range, including 632ha of koala habitat, 340ha of greater glider habitat and 150ha of squatter ­pigeon habitat.

Ms Ley said the EPBC Act was there to ensure safeguards were in place for the environment. “Any proposal needs to comply with these,” she said.

“There was a clear presence of species whose populations have been impacted by bushfires and that was an important consideration. 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.

Epuron said the Lotus Creek Wind Farm would generate about 1.7 million megawatt hours of renewable electricity a year — equiva­lent to supplying power to 305,000 homes.

The company’s application for EPBC approval said a search had identified five listed threatened ecological communities, 30 threatened species and 16 ­migratory species within 10km of the proposal site.

It said given the nature and scale of the proposal, a potential significant impact to some ­commonwealth-listed threatened entities was considered likely.

Koalas were found to be present throughout the project area, with 48 recorded (heard or seen) during the two survey periods.

The overall number of koalas found across the site is considered to be significant for the bioregion.

“Based on these results, all ­vegetation containing non-juvenile koala trees within the project areas has been assessed as having a high potential for use by koala”, the company said. “The project’s impacts will result in the direct clearing of approximately 632.2 ha of suitable habitat for koala. This is considered to be a reduction in the extent of habitat at a local and regional scale and is likely to ­constitute a significant impact.”

Epuron said the project would help the government to achieve its target of 50 per cent renewable energy generation by 2030.

Source: The Australian