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 whittled back to less than half its original size, after 114 of the 200 turbines initially proposed were cut to avoid sensitive ecological and cultural heritage sites.

Project developer Ark Energy – part of the massive Korea Zinc group – said on Thursday that the wind farm will still have a maximum generation capacity of 602MW, which is slightly higher than originally planned, despite the reduction in turbine numbers.

In a new Public Environment Report, put forward for assessment by the federal government, Ark says this output will be achieved with up to 86 wind turbines – down from 95 proposed last year, which had already been halved from 200 proposed initially.

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

The changes come after concerns were raised over the development’s potential environmental impacts, given its location close to national parks that form part of the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area.

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

This gives the federal government power of veto – 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 most recent design change to the project removed a further eight wind turbines, resulting in a reduction of access roads by 27km, and a sub-station relocation that has cut overhead transmission lines by 4km.

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

The rehabilitation program aims to be conducted in collaboration with local land care groups and to incorporate Indigenous training and employment.

“Over the course of the project’s planning and assessment phase a total of 114 wind turbines from an initial layout of 200 have been removed to address concerns and reduce impacts,” a statement on the project website says.

“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 600 m in only one location and otherwise almost 1 km or more.”

Ark Energy’s general manager 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 renewable energy supply is urgent to reduce carbon emissions, replace fossil fuel energy sources and meet growing electricity demand,” Russo says.

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

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

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

The project’s draft Public Environment Report is now on public exhibition until December 16.

(This story has been updated to clarify reductions in turbine numbers and size of proposed turbines).