By Kirra Grimes
THE construction of a 10.8 metre tall wind turbine on a Phillip Island residential property will pose a serious threat to the local Short-tailed Shearwater population, according to the nation’s leading bird conservation organisation.
BirdLife Australia’s Coastal Birds Projects Officer Dr Daniel Lees made the claim in a letter to Bass Coast Shire Council’s planning department last week, expressing strong opposition to the impending installation of a domestic wind turbine at a holiday home in Surf Beach, around 250 metres from a shearwater breeding colony.
Elaborating his concerns to the Sentinel-Times, Dr Lees said the proposed wind turbine would have “extremely detrimental” effects on the colony, mainly because at night when adult birds returned to their nests in the dunes to feed their chicks it was unlikely that they’d be able to see the turbine’s blades as they were spinning.
“If their flight path crosses the turbine – which is very likely given the turbines proximity to the colony – they will die as a result of collision with the blades,” Dr Lees said.
“This is even more likely when the naive young birds start learning to fly,” he said.
When asked to clarify their stance, Phillip Island Nature Parks declined to comment on the specific case currently under investigation by council, but confirmed Short-tailed Shearwaters on Phillip Island “are vulnerable to strike hazards from structures”.
“The Nature Parks’ purpose is to protect wildlife and inspire people to act,” spokesperson Sally O’Neill said.
“We are committed to becoming a carbon-neutral organisation by 2030 and support renewable energies to reduce the effects of climate change.
“We must also consider the significant environmental values on Phillip Island when selecting a suitable type of renewable energy to be generated locally,” Ms O’Neill said.
Proponent of the Surf Beach turbine Robert McKittrick doesn’t believe it will have negative effects on the shearwaters or other wildlife and argues his concern for the environment is precisely the reason he’s pursuing the project.
“I’m not an environmental vandal – far from it,” Mr McKittrick told the Sentinel-Times recently.
Community members opposing the turbine have asked council use “extraordinary powers” to halt work on the project, in light of BirdLife Australia’s advice.
Council was unable to comment under its election period policy.
MP ‘concerned’ but powerless to stop turbine construction
BASS MP Jordan Crugnale has shared her views on the turbine, telling the Sentinel-Times last week, “wind generated energy is an important part of the energy mix,” however “any fair minded person would be concerned to see the construction of a tall turbine in a residential area”.
Ms Crugnale said whether or not construction should go ahead “is a matter for the Bass Coast Council under their Local Planning Provisions,” as the State Planning Scheme currently only has provisions for wind turbines associated with large scale wind farms.
“Until a planning provision is created to cover domestic use wind turbines, the handling of planning requirements and issues is left to the discretion and interpretation of local councils,” Ms Crugnale explained.
Ms Crugnale’s advice to Bass Coast Shire Council, ever since Surf Beach residents began their campaign to stop the turbine, has been to “explore the energy output and legitimate domestic use” of the proposed structure, “which they can do through their local planning scheme”.
“Turbines which are expected to predominantly generate power that will be exported to a grid or to a specific consumer for commercial gain, will likely come under the State’s Wind Energy Facility Clause in the planning provision for which a planning permit is required,” Ms Crugnale said.
Shire CEO Ali Wastie has previously stated that the output of energy from the proposed turbine is considered “within acceptable parameters” for domestic use and that “there is no evidence that it will be used for commercial purposes”.