Wind power in Tasmania: Conserving Wildlife Habitats in the Land of the Roaring Forties

Woolnorth wind farm on the north-west tip of the island of Tasmania is the largest operating wind farm in the southern hemisphere. Set amid a stunning location of panoramic sea views and exotic wildlife, the area is swept by the famous Roaring Forties winds, which were already known to sailors in the 17th century. Records at the nearby Cape Grim show that the air is among the purest to be found on anywhere on earth.

Many unusual species inhabit the region. Among them are the Orange-bellied Parrot, a dazzling green and blue bird with its distinctive orange belly patch, and Wedge-tailed Eagles. There are also sites of both European and Aboriginal cultural significance.

The developers of the Woolnorth wind farm have ensured the conservation of this treasured habitat while clean electricity continues to be generated for Australian homes and businesses.

Extensive field surveys were conducted before the wind turbines were constructed to make sure that the site’s wildlife significance was fully reflected in the plans. The wind farm’s owners have since undertaken a comprehensive management regime aimed at minimising the risk of eagles colliding with the blades. They have also established a trust fund to help conserve the habitats of the endangered Orange-bellied Parrot.

Every year the 62 wind turbines located at Woolnorth generate about 450 Gigawatt hours of electricity and avoid the emission of 560,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Woolnorth is just one of more than 40 wind farms which are contributing to a reduction in Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. The Australian government is now committed to a target for 20% of the country’s electricity to come from renewable sources, including wind energy, by 2020.

In 2008, the country passed the milestone of 1,000 MW of installed wind power, and there are now about 40 wind farms spread across seven states with a total capacity of almost 1,600 MW.

Wind power is supported by an obligation placed on all electricity retail companies to source an increasing proportion of their supply from renewable generators. Known as the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target (MRET), this currently places a legal liability on wholesale purchasers of electricity to contribute towards the generation of an additional 9,500 gigawatt hours (GWh) of renewable energy annually by 2010.

The MRET has been key to investment and technology development in the Australian renewable energy industry. It has been responsible for expanding employment and investment opportunities, especially in regional areas.

The Australian government’s Department of Climate Change is now committed to increasing the renewables target to 20% of the national electricity supply by 2020. This would require an estimated 10,000 MW of renewable generating capacity to be installed, most of which is expected to be wind power.

In 2008, a record 615 MW of new wind capacity was installed around Australia, and the outlook for 2009 is even better.