The King of all battles: wind farm vs golf course vs shearwater

Published by Independent Australia. View the original article

The nation’s biggest wind farm development on King Island is being threatened by golf course developments — that themselves threaten 80,000 mutton birds. David Looker reports.

Short-tailed Shearwater

THE Short-tailed Shearwater, commonly called the mutton bird, is an unassuming bird whose habits capture the imagination.

It breeds in coastal sand holes dug in massive rookeries across southern  Australia and then flies in a figure of eight pattern, across the Pacific, to feeding grounds as far away as the Arctic Ocean off Alaska. It is a prolific species — Parks Tasmania estimate there are 23 million of them.

The shearwater often returns to breed in the same hole and with the same mate — sometimes for over a decade. Flights of up to 17,000 kilometres have been tracked.

Now, despite their seasonal absence, about 80,000 of these birds currently in the Northern hemisphere have unwittingly flown right into the King Island wind farm debate. They don’t know it yet, but they will find out when they return to Cape Wickham, King Island next year and find their holes have been “relocated” to make way for a golf course under the Cape Wickham Lighthouse.

This golf course proposal is contained in a Development Application (DA) lodged with the King Island Council by Lighthouse Properties Australia Pty Ltd. (It can be read in full here.)

Lighthouse PA is a development by Turnpoint, which has successfully developed many golf courses. Ironically, they are currently developing one on Phillip Island called “Shearwater”.

Turnpoint build golf courses. (Image: screenshot from Turnpoint website)
Turnpoint build golf courses. (Image: screenshot from Turnpoint website)

The report by Richard Chamberlain Golf Design, which accompanies the DA, casually states it is an “inevitable ” part of building the golf course that a Short-tailed Shearwater colony of  42,000 holes (presumably meaning 80,000 birds) will suffer “dislocation”. According to the Chamberlain Report, this has been approved by Parks Tasmania.

This might ordinarily have plenty to do with ecology and nothing to do with wind farms, except that the DA proposal was tabled in the very same week that arguments were presented to a tightly controlled public meeting on a socio-economic report that implied that golf versus wind  farm was a central issue for King Island residents to consider in weighing up their vote in a forthcoming plebiscite to decide whether or not the Islanders wish to proceed with a feasibility study on Hydro Tasmania’s proposed $2 billion wind farm.

Bird interests strongly allied themselves with this argument and with the Golf Courses. They now appear conflicted – or ‘dislocated’– in their alliance.

The population of King Island is split in the lead up to a plebiscite for the $2 billion Project (REF), involving construction of a proposed  200 wind turbines on the Island. TasWind have said they will be bound by this vote.

It may be hard to see competing aims between wind farms and golf courses, but on King Island that is how the debate is being framed.

Cape Wickham Lighthouse

The development of two golf courses has been approved by local and State Planning Authorities. The two golf courses in question include the one at Cape Wickham being developed by Turnpoint mentioned earlier.

This spectacularly beautiful bit of coast is the location of the famous Cape Wickham lighthouse — an iconic navigational guide to sailors of days long gone and coincidentally the site of many shipwrecks. It was “officially opened” last year by Governor General Quentin Bryce in a ceremony to mark its 150th birthday.

The second course is located nearer to Currie and will be known as Ocean Dunes.

The golf course versus wind debate formally entered discussion when the  TWCC (TasWind Consultative Committee) commissioned CH2MHill, a Melbourne firm, to appraise the study previously done by TasWind contractor E3 Consulting. The TWCC is supposed to be independent, although one can imagine this is a challenge for the 17 members, who clearly have opinions of their own.

In the CH2MHill study, the issue of the economic benefits to the Island, set out in the E3 Planning Report, is reframed into a simple comparison of benefits in a range of golf courses versus wind farms scenarios. Why one would affect the other is not addressed in the Report.

One might reasonably assume the benefits of both would far outweigh one or the other, especially since the golf courses are going ahead anyway, according to their backers. Equipment is on the ground at Wickham and the first sod turned at Ocean Dunes. So the CH2MHill report analysing a case of “wind farm equals less successful golf courses” arguably starts from a false premise.

That premise is then extended to the less credible point that the net economic benefit to the Island is more if the golf courses go ahead without the wind farm. In fact the benefit is said to be less if the wind farm is added. This is a case of  1+1= …<1.

Ironically, the CH2MHILL study has been funded by Hydro Tasmania, and their tactics in this debate are becoming increasingly hard to fathom as this review is against their own Report and sets out to undermine their own case.

E3 Planning, the authors of the original report, were denied a chance to respond at the public meeting held to address this report on 27 May. The writer was present and estimates 15 per cent of the Island population attended.

Hydro Tasmania have said they are concerned that the report by CH2MHill significantly overplayed the potential economic benefits to the community without TasWind being built, their CEO Roy Adair stating:

“There is also no evidence that I am aware of that TasWind will detract from these golf courses reaching their full potential as suggested by the report.”

Huxley Hill wind farm.

What has this to do with the Shearwater rookery?

The relevance is that, in framing the golf course versus wind farm conflict, strong support has been received for the two golf courses option by people associated with Birds Australia and local bird organisations. It is not clear if they were aware of the proposal to ‘dislocate’ 80,000 shearwaters in the Cape Wickham rookery — but they are now.

This might commonly be called a “wedge”.

This writer has previously observed the issues facing King Islanders with the proposed TasWind renewable energy option go beyond the Island community.

The case of the Cape Wickham shearwaters is another example of the bigger picture.

The proposed bulldozing of the rookery has already attracted attention from the Federal Department of Environment and Water Resources, who have in the past taken the view that under  The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) that matters of “national environment significance” include the listed migratory Short Tailed Shearwater.

The shearwater rookery at Cape Woolamai on Phillip Island. (Image: Craig Abraham / The Age)

12 thoughts on “The King of all battles: wind farm vs golf course vs shearwater

  1. The premise of this article is misleading, and it’s worth injecting some facts into the discussion.

    I have been involved as a consultant on the Cape Wickham project and can confirm there are approximately 45,000 burrows at Cape Wickham but the golf course will only disturb around 11,500 of them. More than half of the burrows are likely to be unoccupied, so there aren’t even 80,000 birds in the area. Regardless, more than 30,000 nests will remain untouched, and none of the birds are directly harmed in any way.

    Furthermore, nearly 9 hectares of private land is being set aside as Shearwater Sanctuaries, including a prime slice of the Cape Farewell headland, which is currently unsuitable for birds because of limestone rock. That rock will be mined and the area covered in sand and revegetated to give the affected birds a suitable place to relocate. Additionally, the developer has removed cattle from the property and will be removing invasive weed species including the prolific African boxthorn. This will not only provide additional nesting ground for the birds, it will clean up the area and help native plant species thrive.

    Most importantly, the developer plans to shut down the open mutton-birding rookery at Cape Wickham. We know that each year a thousand or more chicks are killed on the site and we will be working with DPIPWE to stop that practice. On my last visit two weeks ago I saw a huge pile of chick carcasses. I agree these are remarkable birds but what happens to them currently up there is brutal.

    While some in Tasmania will oppose any golf development, the conditions imposed upon this project are very strict and it’s clearly in our best interests that the colony of shearwaters not only survives but thrives.

    Finally, it’s important to add that we have stayed deliberately out of the wind farm debate and not commented in any forum on their appropriateness or otherwise for King Island. This is very much a decision for the island to make, and those who have linked golf with the anti-wind farm stance have done so without contact or encouragement from our team.

    1. “only disturb around 11,500 of them” Gee, is that all? Hate to think what would happen if a WF had to remove 11,500 WT Eagle nests (occupied or not)

  2. This is another great example of wind farm opponents being more than a little selective in their opposition to a project. They frequently invoke bird mortality as a reason to oppose turbines yet once again they remain mute when their preferred “alternative” project is shown to be far more detrimental to bird populations.

    The King Island folks are being taken for suckers by Kim George and the No TasWind group who have demonstrated their contempt for honesty.

  3. Golf courses are not ‘far more detrimental to bird populations’. King island is a migratory bottle neck with both international and trans -Bass Straight migration paths. 200 windtowers will make short work of them. Estimations are in at around 40,000 bird deaths per annum for the towers. Hardly a comparison considering the golf courses are only relocating, and not harming a single bird.

    King island is a small delicate ecology, it is an Island after all. wind towers will decimate that ecology, by contrast, the golf industry is giving more than they take, with environmental improvements such as the removal of invasive weeds and the planting of native plants.

  4. As Mr. Oliver has replicated his comment from Independent Australia here, I felt replicating mine would also be appropriate:

    While Mr. Oliver provides some useful additional information, he is disingenuous regarding the manufactured conflict between golf and wind energy on King Island.

    The King Island Wind Farm Debate FaceBook page is full of comments from anti-TasWind Islanders who make it clear that golf course investors have stated that golf courses would not go ahead if the wind farm did. The economic study commissioned by the hijacked consultative committee was apparently given the brief to not consider a situation with both wind energy and golf. Instead, cartoons and other demagogic fear-mongering are being used to raise the fear that no one would golf on King Island if it had more wind turbines.

    A look at the plans makes it clear that it it is highly unlikely that any golfer’s fragile psyche would be shattered with even a glimpse of a wind turbine from either of the golf courses. They just aren’t in the same parts of the island and the geography makes them invisible to one another.

    Of course, wind farms are the best source of energy for wildlife including birds: global warming and air pollution are the big threats. No one can make a claim that golf course are good for wildlife compared to any alternative except pavement; those short and emerald greens and fairways require chemicals galore and remarkable amounts of gas or diesel to maintain.

    After reading up on them, my assessment is that the shearwater isn’t endangered or at risk in any way at present, so I’m not particularly upset at moving burrows even though I scratch my head at a golf course being permitted to. But the level of rhetoric thrown at the King Island wind farm proposal regarding impacts on shearwaters is completely out-of-proportion to the much, much smaller impact wind farms might have on this bird species.

    Yet again, clean, safe, benign wind energy is being held to a much stricter standard than other economic activities. It does make me scratch my head.

  5. Mike there was nothing disingenuous about my wind farm remarks, and in truth we continue to be frustrated by the fact that somehow the Cape Wickham project is associated with the anti-Wind Farm movement. The reason we haven’t made public comment on the matter is that we genuinely don’t have a view either way. The turbines won’t be visible from Wickham and as I stated previously it really is an issue for the island. We don’t even have an approved DA yet.

    I know the Ocean Dunes guys feel differently about this, but it is unfair to lump the two projects together. They are not related in any meaningful way.

    As for your claim that golf courses are no good for the environment, you probably need to do a little more research as countless studies have disproved such an assertion and shown most golf operators to be excellent environmental stewards. The courses on the Mornington Peninsula, for example, have played an important role in helping enhance the biodiversity of that region.

    Certainly at Wickham it would be hard to argue that our project doesn’t carry significant conservation benefits for the area. The loss of the boxthorn, the sea spurge, the winged thistle etc, not to mention the removal of cattle from the area, is important on a number of fronts, not the least being it allows for the regeneration of indigenous plants used as foraging habitat for the orange bellied parrot.

    There is a big difference between the emerald green golf courses you have pictured in your mind, and the more natural links that we are creating. Think Barnbougle Dunes rather than those ugly resort courses on the Gold Coast.

  6. Comment repeated here as well:

    Darius, my apologies, but silence is complicity in this case.

    Your silence on the misinformation being spread about purported impacts on your proposed golf course from the proposed wind farm speaks louder than your complaints of unfairness in reporting about shearwater nest dislocation and the “environmental benefits” of your bulldozing.

    If you don’t like what people are saying on your behalf, issue a simple statement published in the King Island Courier and on the King Island Wind Farm Debate FaceBook page to the effect of:

    “The Cape Wickham consortium does not believe that the proposed wind farm would have an impact on our planned golf course or visitors to it based on the evidence we have to hand. Golfers will not be able to see wind turbines from our links, and we see no reason why the two cannot coexist. We regret both that our proposed tourism facility has been dragged into the debate over the proposed wind farm, and that we have not stated our neutrality and opinion earlier. Please discount information to the contrary that is credited to us. Our apologies for allowing a false impression to stand as long as we have. ”

    Given your statements above, it is difficult to see why you would not take this simple step. After all, given your arguments on behalf of the environmental benefits of your more natural approach to golf course design and construction, you must realize that wind energy is a strong net benefit locally, regionally and globally.

    Silence and lack of action on this proposal I will take as consent, and I will spread the word via other channels that you do not consider the wind farm an issue for your golf course based on your post here. Your lack of official comment given your statements here would reflect badly on you in that case, but that is your choice. Please trust me when I say I have access to many other channels, having been party to this debate for a couple of months. I’m sure you’ll agree this is fair.

  7. ‘Silence is complicity’ – wow, interesting that you feel qualified, or sufficiently well informed, to make such an assertion on this matter. Naturally I disagree.

    As stated previously, we do not even have an approved DA from the King Island Council for this project, and the developer in question genuinely has no view on the wind turbine proposal. If you knew anything about our particular project you would understand that we have worked tirelessly over the past 6 months or so to get the necessary approvals, permits, leases etc in place. We are almost there, but have been so focused on environmental and regulatory issues that we haven’t really paid close attention to the wind proposal at all.

    The first I knew that we were linked to the anti-wind farm movement was two weeks ago when I saw the local newspaper. Even then there were no comments to clarify, instead it’s other people suggesting that the golf projects would be under threat if the wind-farm proposal was accepted. I haven’t seen the plans myself for the wind turbines, but if they don’t impact on Cape Wickham then any wind supporter could make such a statement.

    I haven’t spoken to the Ocean Dunes guys lately and have no idea what their position is, but whatever it is they would be better informed than we are given their approvals have been in place for months. They have had time to study the proposal much more closely.

    I’m sorry if my explanations are unsatisfactory, but as you know there are two sides to every debate and people often get caught in the middle without strong views either way. Feel free to continue to read whatever you like into our lack of comment on this issue; we simply feel it’s a decision that needs to be made by those on the island.

  8. As you’ve stated your unwillingness to issue a simple release as outlined above, expect your words, exactly as stated and with commentary, to be appearing on KI focussed sites over the course of today.

    I’m afraid I don’t sympathize with your position. It appears craven to me to not be willing to state that you are not associated with smear campaigns against the wind turbines, and that any attributions made about your company’s position are false. And if you are stating that the two weeks in the run up to a major vote on the islands future, with a skewed and much publicized economic comparison of golf to wind farm as an either / or choice are an insignificant two weeks, you are either intentionally dissembling or really don’t care despite your protestations.

    Bluntly, it’s a decision that needs to be made by the islanders. Your silence leaves the islanders the impression that you agree with the golf vs wind farm BS, strengthening it. Your willingness to let yourself be abused by the anti side is not letting the islanders decide, it’s enforcing the fear, uncertainty and doubt.

    You have given up the opportunity to control messaging regarding your company. Interesting choice. Good luck with that.

  9. Thanks Mike, didn’t ask for, or expect, sympathy toward our position…and again I’m impressed that you take it upon yourself to determine what those on the island will make of a bunch of ‘non comments’. Seems I have more faith in their intelligence than you do.

    Anyway for the final time, let me repeat that we have not been following the debate closely at all. That might not be true of everyone involved in our project, but the developer and I are unaware of any ‘smear’ comments made on our behalf or any specific statements we would need to disassociate ourselves from. If they exist please feel free to pass them on, but know that we don’t use facebook nor are we familiar with the KI sites you mention.

    You said it yourself, this is a decision for the islanders to make – not some outsiders with a plan that hasn’t even been approved yet. We trust them to make the right one.

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