Journal of the Australian Native Plants Society Canberra region (Inc)

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ANPS Australia Update — Renewable Energy Versus Native Vegetation

By Steve Saunders, President, ANPS Canberra

31 March 2024

Reporting to our March ANPSA zoom-meeting, National Conservation Officer Eddy Wajon made interesting points, about renewable-energy impacts on native vegetation in Western Australia (WA) and Queensland. This is a summary of his report:

  • ANPSA Position Statement supports renewable energy developments but opposes the clearing of native vegetation, suggesting sites avoid this as much as possible.
  • In response to ANPSA representations re the construction of wind turbines in pristine areas of northern Queensland, the Commonwealth Environment Minister simply referred us to the proposed ‘Nature Positive Plan’ in the context of current reforms to national environmental law.
  • In response to similar representations, Queensland Environment spoke with the Conservation Officer. However, environmental assessments for windfarms rest primarily with Department of Housing, Local Government Planning and Public Works. They’re reviewing State Code 23: Wind Farm Development.
  • In WA, one Nullarbor Plain proposal is for 25 million solar panels and 3,000 wind turbines. This might disturb up to 15,000 sq km (1.5 million hectares) of native vegetation. That would be nationally significant.
  • ANPSA and Wildflower Society of WA (WSWA) recently met with the WA Minister for Environment. He was supportive of our preference to site renewable energy facilities on open, cleared, degraded or farm-land. But recognised high-biodiversity areas were attractive as renewable-energy sites.
  • The WA Government, however, recently conducted a quick review of state environmental assessment and approval processes, with no public consultation. This followed lobbying from developers. In December 2023, the review delivered 39 recommendations which government is likely to implement.
  • Proposed changes could:
    • expedite the assessment process through a Coordinator General
    • allow the Environment Minister to designate projects as State-significant and impose this priority on EPA
    • appoint industry personnel lacking environmental background to EPA Board, and
    • weaken public appeal rights and the Office of the Appeals Convenor.
Scaevola macrophylla, south coast WA, observed four times in 180 years_
  • WSWA and other WA environmental groups oppose these changes. In a world biodiversity hotspot, they will expedite clearing of already-threatened flora and ecological communities and native vegetation more generally, particularly in relation to renewable energy projects and critical mineral extraction and processing.
  • WSWA decries proposed removals of rights to know, participate and challenge. They are participating in public meetings, doing education campaigns, and lobbying politicians for transparent environmental assessments.

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