Getting Away With ‘Green’ Murder: Wind Industry Destroying Vast Tracts of Australian Wilderness

Vast tracts of Australia’s tropical and sub-tropical forests are being destroyed to make way for giant industrial wind turbines. Running like a spine down the east coast of Australia, the Great Dividing Range is prime real estate for renewable energy rent-seekers, keen on spearing 260m high monsters into territory that tree huggers used to hold in sacred reverence.

But that was before saving the planet meant clear-felling and bulldozing every ridgeline exposed to occasional stiff breezes and then, having literally moved mountains, turning newly denuded peaks into 6 lane highways.

Over time, however, the gullible environmentalists who were sucked in by claims about this wind farm powering tens of thousands of homes, with energy lovingly caressed from mother nature, began to wake up that all wasn’t well. Indeed, some of them have reacted with the kind of ‘we’ve been had’ fury expected of unwitting dupes.

The warm inner glow they experienced when they first cruised past a cluster of these things in their snow-white Prius, has long dissipated. Instead of blindly endorsing the wind industry, once they come face to face with the wholesale destruction of what were once well-treed mountain ranges, a growing number of them are simply horrified at what’s been done in the name of ‘saving’ the environment.

Still, a number of them simply can’t bring themselves to the point of rejecting wind and large-scale solar for the environmental and economic frauds that they are. These are the characters who spout lines about being all in favour of renewable energy, provided it’s not among the mountains, forests and wilderness where they enjoy trekking and camping with their kith and kin.

Well, as STT has pointed out once or twice, if you’re ready to concede that there is a place for these things, then fully expect them to be speared into your backyard, or favourite hiking destination, as the case may be.

Australia’s ABC is renowned as the propaganda outlet of choice for the wind and solar industries, so the article below is a little outside their usual narrative.

Sure, the original article was peppered with the usual lies and myths about the wind farm in question powering 100,000 homes, as if the turbines in question are running 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; and guff about thousands of groovy ‘green’ energy jobs – the ones that disappear once the build ends and the construction gangs disperse.

So, we took the liberty of removing that kind of starry-eyed nonsense, thereby giving our readers a chance to focus on the fact that the wind industry has been getting away with ‘green’ murder, from the moment it began.

The wind farms angering renewable energy fans
ABC
Mayeta Clark
12 December 2021

On the day the Mount Emerald wind farm was officially declared open, Steve Nowakowski felt a heady optimism.

It was winter 2019, the sky was clear and a slight breeze ruffled Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s hair as she spruiked Queensland’s clean, green energy future.

Steve, a renowned wilderness photographer and veteran environmental campaigner, listened in fierce agreement.

“We know we need a very quick transition to renewables and this was a part of a solution,” he says.

Steve had photographed the gigantic blades as they wound their way up the Palmerston range to a high elevation plateau, less than 100km south-west of Cairns.

His images were so striking, he had been commissioned by the energy company building the wind farm to photograph the completed project.

So after the opening ceremony, he walked to the top of Mt Emerald to get aerial shots of the site.

Steve had bushwalked through Mt Emerald’s native scrub years earlier and knew the landscape well.

Back then, it was an untouched wilderness of scraggly trees, open grasslands and rocky ridges.

Now, as he looked down, he was shocked at what he saw.

Broad roads carved snaking pathways through the scrub, connecting large circular clearings at the base of over 50 towering wind turbines.

“I thought, ‘Geez, there’s a lot of destruction here. They’ve transformed what was a really great, pristine area … into a really industrial area’.”

He had no idea at the time that Mt Emerald would become just one of many wind and solar projects proposed, or already under construction, in this part of Queensland, some on significant tracts of unspoilt wilderness.

“It’s really out of control,” Steve says. “And no one knows about it.”

While environmental campaigners like Steve Nowakowski remain committed to renewable energy, a Background Briefing investigation has found growing community backlash over the locations chosen for projects in North Queensland.

Local conservation groups and peak climate bodies are sounding the alarm over plans to build green energy projects in forests that predate white settlement, along corridors bordering World Heritage Areas, and on properties previously targeted for conservation protection, rather than on cleared and degraded land.

If all current proposals were to be approved, an estimated 13,332 hectares of remnant vegetation would be cleared statewide. Around 90 per cent of the land clearing will be in North Queensland.

There are currently 48, large-scale renewable energy projects that have been completed, commenced or slated for Queensland, with some of the largest facilities to be built along the electricity transmission networks that traverse the Coral Sea coast.

These transmission lines provide convenient access to the national energy grid but sometimes cut through ecologically valuable land.

“We’ve got this big wall of steel coming through along the transmission line along the western side of the Great Dividing Range, hugging the western side of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area,” Steve says.

According to James Cook University adjunct professor and evolutionary biologist, Dr Tim Nevard, Far North Queensland is one of Australia’s most biodiverse regions and many of the sites chosen for wind farms are “wholly inappropriate”.

“Biodiversity is the buffer at the end of the tracks that stops the runaway train of climate change from bursting through,” Dr Nevard says.

“Destroying biodiversity in order to have greater amounts of wind energy is a complete oxymoron. It’s ridiculous. So we shouldn’t be doing it.”

‘This is massive’
A year after standing atop Mt Emerald, Steve Nowakowski received a phone call from a well-connected friend about another wind farm in the works.

It was at a place called Kaban.

Located about 48 km south of Mt Emerald, the Kaban wind farm is currently being built by the Australian arm of French energy company Neoen. It’s set to start operations in 2023.

The entire project area is 1,300 hectares and will disturb 172 hectares of ground. Most of the site is grassy woodlands and open forest.

The project area includes 129 hectares of threatened species habitat and is home to greater gliders and magnificent broodfrogs.

In the past, some of the property was used for grazing cattle, and like National Parks in the area, parts have been used for military training.

Steve’s friend asked him to get out to the site to photograph a little-known endangered species called the magnificent broodfrog.

But Steve didn’t go.

“I had faith in the system that the frogs would be identified on the site, they’d be protected on the site,” he says.

He has since lost faith that state and federal environmental protection regimes are adequately applied to approvals for renewables projects in biodiverse areas.

A few months later, Steve’s friend called again and implored him to go to Kaban, where bulldozers were now clearing land.

The friend said local residents were distraught and it seemed important to document what was happening.

This time, Steve grabbed his camera gear and made the 90-minute trip to the Kaban site from his home in Kuranda.

When he arrived, he couldn’t believe what he saw.

“I thought, ‘Oh, this is huge. This is massive’.” There were roads and turbine pads that were like “big shearer’s blows across the landscape”.

The massive clearing and excavation works required to create the flat pads for the wind turbines were beginning.

A “fish skeleton” network of roads was taking shape that would soon fragment the forest and create a corridor for feral animals, weeds and disease in a once intact ecosystem, as seen in this video taken by another concerned local some time after Steve’s first visit.

As Steve was leaving Kaban, he worried about the impact of construction on the threatened species in the area.

It’s a concern shared by ecologists and conservationists in the region who say federal environmental survey guidelines aren’t thorough enough to protect some threatened species.

One local conservation group is doing its own survey of the rare and endangered magnificent broodfrog in an attempt to cover the shortfall.

Environmental regulatory experts say Queensland’s planning guidelines for wind farm proposals are out of date and don’t take into account new technological developments.

“How do we define a reasonable impact to flora and fauna? What does that mean under the regulation?” asks Dr Madeline Taylor from the Climate Council.

“We haven’t done that appropriately in the Queensland case, at least.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Queensland Department of State Development and Planning said that state guidelines required wind farms to avoid, or minimise and mitigate, adverse impacts on the natural environment.

The state Environmental Protection Act works in conjunction with other legislation to provide environmental protection in Queensland, the spokesperson said.

Neoen, the company behind the Kaban wind farm, told Background Briefing in a statement that they went through an extensive approval process and were minimising potential impact on species and habitat in the project area.

However, Dr Tim Nevard calls the ecological survey work and government guidelines that allowed Kaban to be approved “pathetic”, in light of the biodiversity in the area.

“It’s not the wind farms’ fault, they’ve done it in accordance with the guidelines. I don’t think you can blame them,” Dr Nevard says.

“State and federal systems, both of them, they both need reform.”

A spokesperson for the federal environment minister, Sussan Ley, said the government was committed to the highest environmental standards in assessing all projects.

Federal laws establish a transparent and rigorous regulatory framework for the protection of listed threatened species, and World and National Heritage places, the spokesperson said.

They said the assessment process for Kaban was rigorous and that the Commonwealth imposed 41 conditions on approval, including a fauna-management plan and offsets, consistent with the department’s policy.

For Steve Nowakowski, what he saw on the ground was alarming. His first inkling of doubt on Mt Emerald was now turning into hardened opposition.

When he got back from his trip to Kaban, he started sharing the videos and photos he took of what was happening at the site with friends online.

One of the people who came across his video was Joyce Bean.

Community backlash
When traditional owner Joyce Bean first heard about the Kaban wind farm project at her Aboriginal native title organisation board meeting, she had a bad feeling.

She visited the country, along with the rest of the administration of Wabubadda, the native title organisation, before development started and she remembers it fondly.

“We had lunch out there and it was beautiful. [We] couldn’t get over how beautiful it was,” Joyce says.

When she visited the site soon after construction had started, she broke down and cried at the damage she saw.

“I didn’t think that they were going to make such a big mess out there in the country,” she says bitterly.

Joyce says that, if she had known what was going to happen, she would never have approved of the wind farm in the first place.

“But we didn’t have a say in it,” she says.

Traditional owners such as Joyce don’t have veto rights over projects on lands they claim native title over.

Often, the best they can do is negotiate hard for any kind of resource that might benefit their community: jobs, vehicles, scholarships for children or training.

Other traditional owners welcome the wind farms and say they are critical to upskilling young Jirrbal people into better-paying jobs.

Many are sick of seeing their community struggle economically, and say the current system has grossly failed them.

What Joyce saw at Kaban left her so disheartened it became one of the key reasons she quit the Wabubadda board after 10 years of service.

When Joyce stumbled on Steve’s images of Kaban online, she picked up the phone.

“She said, ‘Steven, I’ve just been out to the site and I’ve been crying’,” Steve recalls. ”‘I saw your video and we need to do something’.”

Steve was doing presentations about the environmental impact of the wind farm construction at Kaban and had previously offered to do one for the Wabubadda board.

Joyce told him they had to call a whole-of-community meeting to discuss what was happening at Kaban, and what might happen at other proposed wind farm sites.

The two of them mobilised. They met at a cafe in Atherton where Steve gave Joyce and her sister a clutch of flyers, which they handed out to everybody they knew.

In September, dozens of people filed into the Ravenshoe Town Hall, most of them white, along with half a dozen Jirrbal people.

When Steve stood up to give his presentation, he had no idea what to expect. “It was a bit scary,” he recalls. “I didn’t know if I was going to get eggs thrown at me because the people wanted it.”

He showed videos of land clearing for the haulage roads and maps demonstrating the scale of the proposed developments.

“It didn’t take long into my presentation to realise that everyone was on the same page and they were opposed to the industrialisation of this area.”

‘Just blows my brain’
When traditional owner Georgina Wieden saw Steve’s videos of Kaban at the Ravenshoe Town Hall meeting, she was “in complete shock”.

Unlike Joyce, who was heavily involved in Wabubadda board meetings, Georgina had heard about Kaban but hadn’t thought too much about it.

She had assumed she would be kept informed of significant developments on Jirrbal land.

Georgina hadn’t realised how much damage was being done to the forest.

As the presentation went on, Steve kept dropping bombshells about more renewable projects planned across the region in the near future.

Steve explained how, further south of Kaban, a new wind farm was proposed for a site near Chalumbin, which would disturb an area nine times larger.

The proposed site lay snug along the western boundary of World Heritage-protected rainforest. More than 1,100 hectares of vegetation would be cleared for the project.

The proposal involves 94 turbines, with 90m-long blades, 129km of new roads and temporary construction areas up to 100m wide.

In his presentation, Steve showed videos of the remnant riverine forest where Chalumbin would be built.

“Chalumbin just blows my brain,” Steve says. “It’s greater glider habitat, you’ve got a red goshawk nest that was found there last year — [and] they’re critically endangered.

“And the scientists, environmental consultants, have found magnificent broodfrogs on that site as well.”

Then Steve showed the group plans for an even bigger wind farm further south at Upper Burdekin, which would stretch 37 kilometres end to end, according to the proposal.

When he lay the wind farm plan over a map, it stretched the length of Cairns and all its suburbs.

As the presentation went on, Georgina says she really lost it. She walked out.

“I couldn’t do it. I was a mess,” she says.

Georgina’s mood quickly turned to anger as she struggled to comprehend why, as a traditional owner, she hadn’t heard about Chalumbin from the Prescribed Bodies Corporate (PBC) organisation that represents her family’s Native Title interests, Wabubadda.

She discovered at the meeting that Jirrbal negotiators had been meeting with Epuron, the energy company behind the Chalumbin project, for some time.

“You are meeting with an energy company and it’s a meeting that relates to the Jirrbal land — why aren’t the people informed?” asks Georgina.

Prescribed Bodies Corporate such as Wabubadda have a difficult job to do.

They have to consult beyond their narrow membership with the wider native title group, run meetings, decide on a mode of decision-making, and negotiate with multinational companies with very little money and few resources.

Even former board members such as Joyce Bean, who are critical of Wabubadda, concede that it can be difficult to get everybody to meetings, and that people fall through the cracks.

Background Briefing sent questions to Wabubadda, but members were advised not to speak to the program.

Some traditional owners say there were awful massacres across the land proposed for the Chalumbin site, and that important cultural locations in the area are already protected in the National Park and state forests nearby.

They believe that, if their community is to claw back any hope of everything they’ve lost, then wind farms like Chalumbin can play a big role in that.

The only alternative, they say, is to sit back and watch the turbines go up with no benefits coming their way.

But the location of these wind farms in high biodiversity areas is unacceptable to conservationists in the region.

“This is utter madness, clearing high biodiversity forests for wind farms,” Steve Nowakowksi says.

“It’s just insane. You know, I’ve been involved with environmental activism for most of my life and I’ve been arrested for less than this.”
ABC

About stopthesethings

We are a group of citizens concerned about the rapid spread of industrial wind power generation installations across Australia.

Comments

  1. Jacqueline Rovensky says:

    Oh how blind those that do not want to see are.
    Comments about the manner in which those bodies set up by Governments to protect such areas operate is nothing new.
    Across Australia there has been complaint and disgust for years at the manner in which the term ‘mitigation’ is used in such matters. How can you ‘mitigate’ the destruction of habitat and environments when leaving tracks of land untouched through these projects is useless, native creatures do not know of these tracks they only know the ones made by their history and needs to survive. When these are lost through clearing then continual ground vibrations, noises travelling through the air and huge blades swiping anything which comes close to them these creatures either die on the spot or try to find somewhere safe to go – but with such vast areas contaminated by these introduced industrial mechanical monster there is little escape for endangered creatures nor is there anywhere safe for those which are not YET endangered.
    Its nothing new to the other States but still nothing positive is being done about it – maybe now as more of those who used to support this industry (whether turbines or solar panels), are coming to accept what those of use who have been fighting this nightmare for years already know something positive MIGHT begin to happen – that is only if Governments begin to also recognise the damage done and the dangers for continued ignoring of the plight of our beautiful wonderful natural environment. RECOGNITION by those with the ability to STOP this NIGHTMARE is paramount and has to be addressed immediately with a stop to ALL proposals and a program of de-activating these projects with money spent to regenerate areas destroyed.
    Yes it will take years to undo the damage but surely its worthwhile doing. After all the push in recent years has been to stop industrialisation destroying the planet -hasn’t it!

  2. Reblogged this on whatyareckon and commented:
    Saving the Planet via Destruction!

  3. Peter Pronczak says:

    The Tuan state forest in QLD is mostly a pine plantation for government income. The 3 years of secret talks between the government & Germany’s Siemans Financial Services to finance the 226 turbine project (with subsidies) on ridges higher than birds fly (believable?) that will require flat access for the 6 cranes to erect each turbine (about the size of a soccer field) will leave little of anything. Under public safety the public forest can be closed to public access. And the known problem of fires will supposedly be mitigated by keeping the ground litter clear – yeah right.
    Last year mapping was updated to show how little of the forest was natural.
    The state government for financial reasons has already destroyed much natural habitat. When this was initiated & if the public voted for it isn’t known, but it is an ongoing destruction of sub-tropical forest & natural environment that has oddly, not attracted any protests from environmental groups or political parties such as the Greens; perhaps it’s because of the historical German association.

    The wind industry, with the promotion of the Commissioner & federal government, choose areas of least resistance & make proposals a local issue even though once connected to the grid (being the intention) it is a state & federal matter. This means that each & every proposal should be considered at a national level, not by states, territories or limited resources of local government or communities.
    Add to that that RE is being pushed internationally by imposition of dubious evidence from self interested tenure of university departments & other self interested groups & the private financiers control of the UN, & it is nothing other than an enslavement by a dictatorship.

    Has nothing been learned from; if the lie is big enough & told often enough it will be believed?
    Obviously not!

  4. If there fired up now wait until the erosion gets going ,, the bungendore project left washouts you would loose a b.double in..
    The earth movers of the area were called in and they took one look and said and l quote ‘ l aint touching that’…

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