Blown Away in Australia

Like the beleaguered Cape Wind Project in Nantucket Sound, wind farms in Australia have faced opposition from communities that do not want their views disrupted by wind turbines. In 2004, Wind Power Pty Ltd landed government approval to build a 52-turbine wind farm in the rural area of Bald Hills, but then the locals protested, writing more than 1,500 letters to the planning board.

The orange-bellied parrot is one of the world"s rarest birds, with only 200 remaining. It"s also the scapegoat used to kill an Australian wind farm.© DAVE WATTS

"Wind turbines are an eyesore," says a local shopkeeper. "They’re big, metallic monstrosities. There’s so much wilderness near here
why can’t they move the turbines there?"

With a close national election around the corner, the issue was worrisome to the governing Liberal Party and its local candidate, Russell Broadbent. Three days before the election, Environment Minister Ian Campbell sent a letter to local residents saying that a vote for Broadbent was a vote against wind turbines.

Broadbent won the seat. The Liberal Party was re-elected. Almost immediately, Campbell put the Bald Hills project on hold, claiming serious environmental concerns. The site was located near a nature reserve with wetlands, he said, speculating that migratory birds would be "splattered to smithereens" by the turbines.

Since then, Campbell has assigned several environmental studies of the area, even after his own department advised him that he was overdoing it. The reasons for his unusual thoroughness have recently become clear: no study gave him the excuse to veto the wind farm. Instead, they indicated a minimal threat to birds. Finally, he found a report suggesting a possible threat to the orange-bellied parrot, an endangered species. The risk was "very small," but it was enough for Campbell to kill the Bald Hills project.

The decision was hard to justify. The Australian newspaper, called it a "bird-brained ban," and questioned Campbell’s fitness to remain in office (as do his Labor Party opponents). "No orange-bellied parrot has been recorded there [in Bald Hills]," admitted Gerard Early, one of Campbell’s senior staff. "It is not considered to be a major migration passage." Campbell argues that as the parrot is so close to extinction, "almost any negative impact could be sufficient to tip the balance." He adds that the parrot is as threatened "as the Siberian tiger and the polar bear."

The Liberals" political opponents now assert that Campbell agreed to veto the wind farm long before using the parrot excuse. According to Lindsay Tanner of the Labor Party, Campbell’s decision is about "protecting Liberal votes, not protecting an endangered species." The minister has now reluctantly invited Wind Power to submit another proposal.

Campbell still has support from the Bald Hills community, where the landscape remains unspoiled.