Thursday, April 06, 2006

What a Difference a Day Makes

You've got to strike two balances when you're siting a wind farm; one is you've got to find the area where you've got the best and most reliable wind, and you also want to make it where it's got the lowest impact on the nearby residents... My plea to the states is let's look at a national code. It doesn't have to be Canberra telling you how to do it; it's really just some principles that guide the process and really try to make wind the friendly solution for the future, not one that divides communities, one that sees them unite behind the need for a cleaner, greener future.

...
I think everyone's trying to find the right balance and I think a national code could be of assistance because if the States want to go it alone well that's their right. I have deeply strong respect for States' rights, I have planning controls, and I have a lot of other controls, I just think sometimes for the benefit of the wind industry and a clean renewable future, having a sensible set of principles right across Australia can sometimes be a good thing.
[Senator Ian Campbell on ABC Albany, Tuesday, April 4]

I've announced this morning that I have decided not to approve the Bald Hills wind farm in Victoria. I have done so on the basis that the report commissioned by my department has said that the Orange-bellied Parrot, which is threatened and is in a very precarious situation as a species, can't really stand any further potential impacts. The wind farm proposed could have such an impact and hasten the extinction of that species. So based on that and for all the reasons I will cause to be published, this wind farm proposal will not proceed.
[Ian Campbell on Wednesday, April 5]

The announcement is also covered in a press release, where the Minister, perhaps with the assistance of a ghost writer says:

“While the report found that the impact of wind turbine collisions on the Orange-bellied Parrot may be small, up to one bird death per year, it concluded that almost any negative impact on the species could be sufficient to tip the balance against its continued existence.”

The report concluded:

“Given that the Orange-bellied Parrot is predicted to have an extremely high probability of extinction in its current situation, almost any negative impact on the species could be sufficient to tip the balance against its continued existence. In this context it may be argued that any avoidable deleterious effect - even the very minor predicted impacts of turbine collisions - should be prevented.” Wind farm collision risk for birds – Cumulative risks for threatened and migratory species, p47 (Orange-bellied Parrot report)

The full report is available here (various PDF files) - its contents are described in the introduction:

In 2005, Biosis Research Pty Ltd was contracted by the Australian Government to develop a means of modelling the predicted cumulative risks posed to birds from collisions with turbines at multiple wind farms. Cumulative risk modelling was then undertaken for four endangered species of birds: the Orange-bellied Parrot, the Tasmanian Wedge-tailed Eagle, the Swift Parrot and the Australian population of the White-bellied Sea-eagle. The risk of collision for a number of other birds and a bat species was also modelled, focusing on wind farm developments in Gippsland, Victoria.

Now let's take a look at what the Minister has said about Bald Hills and compare it with what the report has to say:

The wind farm proposed could have such an impact and hasten the extinction of that species. [Andrews]

We have used a precautionary approach to input assumptions to modelling. For instance, Orange-bellied Parrots have not been recorded at twenty of the 23 wind farm sites under consideration despite active searching for them at most of the sites. One or two sightings of individuals have been made at the other three sites. Thus there is no informative empirical data about actual numbers or variation in numbers of birds that might reside at any site. However we have modelled on the basis that numbers of birds do spend time at the great majority of sites. The modelling here thus exceeds all actual experience. ... We have intentionally adopted this approach in an attempt to err, if at all, on the basis of over- rather than underestimation of potential risks to the species. [Orange-bellied Parrot report, p14-15]

Predictions of the current modelling suggest that between 1.35 and 0.84 additional parrot mortalities might result annually from the cumulative effects of wind turbine collisions across the species range if all potential wind farms were to be built. We consider that a collision avoidance rate for the species will be 99% or higher. Thus the additional mortality predicted for the cumulative effects of turbine collisions for wind farms within the range of the Orange-bellied Parrot is likely to result in the additional death of less than one bird per annum. [Orange-bellied Parrot report p34]

In other words, even assuming the worst possible situation, the consultants expect less than one parrot to die from banging its head into a windfarm turbine per year, once all potential windfarms are built. In the case of Bald Hill, there are no recorded sightings of the Orange-bellied Parrot at the site, and it is included as a possible migration passage only.

“Given that the Orange-bellied Parrot is predicted to have an extremely high probability of extinction in its current situation, almost any negative impact on the species could be sufficient to tip the balance against its continued existence. In this context it may be argued that any avoidable deleterious effect - even the very minor predicted impacts of turbine collisions - should be prevented.”
[Andrews, quoting page 48 of the report]

Our analyses suggest that such action will have extremely limited beneficial value to conservation of the parrot without addressing very much greater adverse effects that are currently operating against it. [The very next sentence - and the end of the report]

Of vital concern for the Orange-bellied Parrot, is the fact that PVA modelling utilising the most up-to-date and comprehensive population information indicates that the species has a very high probability of going extinct within about 50 years in the absence of any mortality due to wind turbine collisions. Despite the best efforts of the Orange-bellied Parrot Recovery effort, there are clearly substantive factors that are presently largely preventing growth of the population and placing it at very significant risk of extinction. [Further up page 48 - original emphasis]

Perhaps Campbell - officially Minister for the Environment and Heritage, in this case acting more as Minister for Appeasing Nimbies in Marginal Electorates - would have got the point if the consultants had come right out and said "In this context a complete idiot might argue that any avoidable deleterious effect - even the very minor predicted impacts of turbine collisions - should be prevented."

More at The Age.

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