Tanya Plibersek rejects windfarm proposed for biodiverse Queensland forest

<span>The windfarm project at Wooroora Station was proposed for an area that is a vital habitat for animals including the spectacled flying-fox (pictured).</span><span>Photograph: Marc McCormack/EFE/EPA</span>
The windfarm project at Wooroora Station was proposed for an area that is a vital habitat for animals including the spectacled flying-fox (pictured).Photograph: Marc McCormack/EFE/EPA

A proposed windfarm next to the wet tropics world heritage area in north Queensland will not go ahead after the federal government signalled it would refuse the project.

Ark Energy had proposed building the 42-turbine Wooroora Station windfarm – formerly known as the Chalumbin windfarm project – 15km south-west of Ravenshoe.

The project would have cleared almost 509 ha of vegetation and conservationists were concerned, with its location bordering the world heritage area, of the impact on one of the most biodiverse regions in Australia.

The environment and water minister, Tanya Plibersek, said she had made a proposed decision to refuse the project because it would have an unacceptable impact on the environment. She said Ark Energy had now withdrawn its plans and the project would not go ahead.

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“Ultimately I decided the effects of this project on nature are too great and could not be accommodated,” she said.

Plibersek said the project would have cleared one of the last remaining areas of wet sclerophyll forest, a type of woodland that occurs between rainforest and the more open plains of far north Queensland.

“It provides a vital habitat for many birds, plants and animals, including the spectacled flying-fox and the northern greater glider [Petauroides minor],” she said.

Ark Energy’s project lead Damian Vermey said they had worked hard to put forward a proposal with minimal environmental impact.

“After consideration we have decided to withdraw the referral. A huge effort was made to minimise the proposal’s environmental impacts and offer real potential for environmental net gains, but we accept that some may have a different view,” he said.

The Queensland Conservation Council said it was welcome news for the community that the area would remain intact.

“We wholeheartedly support the transition to clean energy and the development of windfarms in Queensland but, with the amount of biodiversity loss we’ve seen to date in Australia, we cannot afford to build projects in such environmentally significant locations” the council’s director, Dave Copeman, said.

In a separate announcement on Saturday, the minister said she had approved Neoen’s proposed Mount Hopeful windfarm, a 63-turbine project located 45km south of Rockhampton. The project will generate enough energy to power 240,000 homes.

Plibersek said the project took the number of renewables developments she had signed off on as minister to 46, which would deliver energy for almost 3m homes. Plibersek said there were a further 130 projects in the pipeline as the government moved to “unlock Australia’s potential to be a world leader in renewable energy”.

“But renewables have to comply with national environment laws, like all other projects,” she said.

Related: Labor accused of broken promise after delaying laws to address Australia’s extinction crisis

“It just about the right kind of development, in the right places, done in the right way.”

Ark Energy’s decision to withdraw its application comes days after Walker Corporation withdrew its proposal for an apartment and retail development on an internationally important wetland at Queensland’s Moreton Bay.

Walker Corporation withdrew its application after Plibersek proposed rejecting the development because of the unacceptable impact it would have on the Ramsar-listed wetland and threatened species such as the critically endangered eastern curlew.

Earlier this week the government also confirmed it would carve up its planned legislation for new nature laws.

Plibersek announced on Tuesday the government would introduce bills for two new agencies – one for environment protection and one for environmental information – in coming weeks.

But a commitment to introduce a suite of laws to address Australia’s extinction crisis, including new national environmental standards against which development proposals would be assessed, has been pushed back to an unspecified date.

Conservationists have called on the government to commit to a timeline for the broader package of reforms and to ensure it would happen in this term of government.

• This story was updated on Saturday 20 April, 2024. An earlier version of this story said the Ark Energy project proposed 85 turbines and clearing of about 1,000 ha. These numbers were from a previous iteration of the proposal.