THE RUSH TO RENEWABLES: DOING IT RIGHT
BALANCING RENEWABLE INFRASTRUCTURE WITH THE NEED TO PROTECT BIODIVERSITY
The transition to renewable energy represents enormous opportunities for regional Australia but if we don’t do it strategically, we may solve one problem while greatly worsening another.
Large areas of remnant forest in the Wet Tropics are being cleared to make way for renewable energy infrastructure.
The Queensland Government has established a 50% renewable energy target by 2030 and a zero net emissions target by 2050. To support these targets, three Renewable Energy Zones (REZs) have been broadly identified in areas with high quality renewable resources like wind and solar, so that multiple generators can be connected cost-effectively. The Northern QREZ covers the entire World Heritage Area and significant areas of remnant vegetation.
Current legislation means that remnant forest can be cleared legally to make way for renewable energy hubs.
The Queensland Government has created a streamlined approvals process to support the rapid expansion of renewables, with limited environmental considerations. This means that where a development is likely to have impacts on Matters of National Environmental Significance, only the federal EPBC (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation) Act can provide any real environmental protection.
An Independent Review of the EPBC Act completed in October 2020 found that Australia’s natural environment and iconic places are in an overall state of decline and under increasing threat. It found that the EPBC Act and its operation requires fundamental reform, which the new federal government has promised to progress. The recently released State of the Environment report has reinforced the need to reform environmental legislation.
Clearing remnant forest to make way for renewable energy infrastructure is counterproductive and it highlights the need to strengthen legislation and align planning regulations. Critical to this is the need to start considering the cumulative impacts of multiple projects in one geographic location rather than giving approvals on a project-by-project basis.
NET POSITIVE IMPACT
Terrain NRM’s position is that renewable energy projects must be regenerative, with a net positive impact on biodiversity. Our recommendation is for a pause on approvals for renewable energy projects while a fit-for-purpose planning and strategic assessment process is developed. This would enable us to ensure that the processes support leading best practice and align with our region’s vision to be a leader in the smart green economy.
RENEWABLES IN FNQ
There are a number of large renewable energy projects in the design or assessment phases within the Northern QREZ. The footprint of these projects is huge, with an estimated total clearing required of around 25,000 hectares.
To put this into context, Kaban, the first project to begin construction in the Northern QREZ, received EPBC approval to remove up to 129 hectares of habitat for listed threatened species and communities including the Magnificent Brood Frog, Greater Glider and Northern Quoll. To offset this clearing, the remainder of the forested property was placed under a conservation covenant to prevent further deforestation, but the net result was still a loss of 129 hectares of biodiversity.
129 hectares is more area than our entire region is able to reforest in an average year. And given tropical rainforests are very expensive to replant ($30,000-$80,000 per hectare), it will cost between $390 million and $1.04 billion to re-establish the amount of forest clearing planned just for current projects.
Other environmental impacts of these projects that need to be taken into account are the increased greenhouse gas emissions from clearing, the removal of large carbon sinks at a time when we need to be protecting, restoring and expanding them, and in some cases, poor water quality outcomes for the Great Barrier Reef due to sediment erosion.
DOING IT RIGHT
It is possible to build a successful renewable energy sector in north Queensland that provides quality jobs for our communities without substantial environmental impacts if we undertake careful strategic planning. In the rush to get ahead in the renewable energy boom, it is essential that we don’t make environmental problems even worse and rely on shortcuts like mitigating impacts through offsetting, which is not sufficiently sustainable.
If you want more information, please go to: www.qld.gov.au/renewable-energy-zones