Environmental Considerations

Environmental Considerations

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EES Objective:  Avoid, minimize or offset potential adverse effects on native vegetation, habitat, listed threatened species and ecological communities, migratory species and other protected flora and fauna.

Wind energy is one of the cleanest sources of energy currently available. Wind turbines produce significantly more electricity throughout their lifetime than the amount of energy used to construct, move, and dismantle the technologies. Additionally, throughout their operational period, the turbines do not emit greenhouse gasses. It typically only takes five months for a wind turbine to repay its energy footprint (i.e. generate the amount of energy it consumes throughout its lifetime). Wind farms can be developed in most areas, and the establishment of a wind turbine does not diminish the potential for agriculture use in the same area.

The Project has undergone significant design modifications in response to site conditions, social and environmental constraints and to avoid and minimise environmental impacts where possible. The changes have resulted in the removal of numerous proposed wind turbines, alterations to proposed wind turbine locations, and modifications in the positioning of: access roads, underground cables, collector stations, the terminal station, overhead powerline routes and the site selection for the temporary on-site quarry.

The project is located on modified agricultural land that is primarily used for cropping and livestock grazing. Prior to progressing an infrastructure layout, Westwind Energy engaged environmental consultants to survey the development area to identify any significant flora as a way of ensuring the project’s environmental impact was minimised. Targeted surveys throughout various seasons have been completed, and numerous design iterations were carried out to minimise the native vegetation impact. Analysis of the likelihood of occurrence of threatened flora species indicated that potential habitat existed within the proposed wind farm footprint for 17 flora species listed under the EPBC Act or FFG Act. Targeted surveying for threatened flora was undertaken across three separate site surveys (May, October and December 2017) to coincide with the published flowering times for the target species. Three species of threatened flora listed under the EPBC Act or FFG Act were recorded within the investigation area of the wind farm during these surveys. These were:

  • Spiny Rice-flower (Pimelea spinescens subsp. spinescens);
  • Trailing Hop-bush (Dodonaea procumbens); and
  • Small Milkwort (Comesperma polygaloides)

Where significant populations of threatened flora were recorded in the investigation area (i.e. Spiny Rice-flower), assessment of adjacent areas was undertaken to allow for micro-siting of wind farm infrastructure to avoid impacts on these species.

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Four ecological communities listed under the EPBC Act or FFG Act were recorded within the Project site including:

• Natural temperate grassland of the Victorian volcanic plain;
• Seasonal herbaceous wetlands (freshwater) of the temperate low land plains;
• Grassy eucalypt woodland of the Victorian volcanic plain;
• Western (basalt) Plains grassland.

Where possible turbine sites were selected at locations where agricultural modification had already occurred in order to minimise the projects impact on threatened flora and ecological communities. The proposed footprint of the Project will result in the loss of a total of 46.205 hectares of native vegetation and 8 scattered trees. As the development footprint has been established in accordance with the avoid and minimise principles, every effort has been made to ensure the best vegetation habitat has been avoided and will be retained where possible. The residual impact, involving the removal of 46.205 hectares and 8 scattered trees, represents less than 1% of the native vegetation on the site, or 0.207 ha per turbine. Numerous design iterations were completed by WestWind Energy to ensure the impact to native vegetation is avoided where possible with all remaining impacts to vegetation being mitigated using native vegetation offset that will be sourced on or near the wind farm site.
Appropriate offset sites have been identified to ensure that all required State and Commonwealth offsets are available within the vicinity of the proposed development. Prior to the start of construction all required offsets will be secured in accordance with relevant department guidelines.  Species to be offset include Adamson’s Blown-grass, Swamp Sheoak, Button Wrinklewort, Purple Blown-grass, White Sunray, Pale Swamp Everlasting, Spiny Rice-flower as well as Natural Temperate Grassland of the Victorian Volcanic Plain, Seasonal Herbaceous Wetland (freshwater) of the Temperate Lowland Plains and  of Grassy Eucalypt Woodland of the Victorian Volcanic Plain.

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A majority of the proposed development site comprises agricultural land which is of low quality for fauna due to the changes that have occurred since European settlement. Based upon desktop assessments 15 protected species, including 9 birds, 2 mammals, 1 reptile, 1 frog, 1 fish and 1 invertebrate were considered to have potential to occur within the wind farm site due to the presence of suitable habitat. During fauna surveys 7 protected species were detected including 2 birds, 2 mammals, 1 reptile, 1 frog and 1 invertebrate.

The 15 protected species that have potential to occur within the wind farm site are shown below.

Species (Common Name)Potential ImpactAvoid / Mitigate / Offset Measures
BIRDS
Baillon’s CrakeThe Baillon’s Crake is a small and cryptic waterbird that occurs in wetlands. It has the potential to occur in the freshwater wetlands when they hold water. This habitat is not being significantly impacted by the proposed development as turbines are located at least 80m from wetlands and waterways. Tracks and other infrastructure are also located at least 30m from almost all wetlands and waterways where possible.Unlikely to pose risk to this species – no avoidance, mitigation or offset measures required.
BrolgaBrolga have been historically recorded within the wind farm site however a significant proportion of the wetlands in the area have either been permanently drained and no longer considered suitable for use by Brolgas. There are three wetlands that are located within the south-eastern portion of the wind farm boundary.To minimize any potential impacts on Brolga wetlands, turbine-free buffer zones have been developed resulting in 12 turbines being removed and five turbines being repositioned. Additionally, as part of the Brolga Compensation Plan three wetlands will be restored for future Brolga breeding, in consultation with the DELWP and the local catchment authority. A Brolga compensation plan will be implemented as part of this Project. This will focus on producing more young Brolgas by effectively managing additional breeding sites in cooperation with private landholders for the life of the project. Monitoring and review of this scheme will be conducted to ensure that it is effective. Landholder agreements will be finalised in due course.
Eastern Great EgretThe Eastern Great Egret has been recorded within the vicinity of the site and has the potential to occur at the wind farm site due to the presence of suitable wetland habitat. It is unlikely that this species occurs regularly or in significant numbers due to the limited extent and quality of wetland habitat within the wind farm site. Aquatic habitats are not being significantly affected by the proposed development as turbines, tracks and other infrastructure are located at least 30 metres from almost all wetlands and waterways where possible.
Fork-tailed SwiftThe Fork-tailed Swift (listed as migratory under the EPBC Act) is an aerial bird species that spends most of its life on the wing. The Fork-tailed Swift often flies at rotor swept area heights. Fork-tailed Swift’s population numbers as high as 100,000 and is rarely recorded colliding with wind turbines. Significant impacts on this species are therefore highly unlikely to occur.Unlikely to pose risk to this species – no avoidance, mitigation or offset measures required.
Gull-billed TernThe Gull-billed Tern is unlikelyto occur regularly or in significant numbers on the wind farm site so the proposed development is unlikely to pose a significant risk to this species. Furthermore, turbines, tracks and other infrastructure are located at least 30 metres from almost all wetlands and waterways to avoid significant impacts on these habitats.Unlikely to pose risk to this species – no avoidance, mitigation or offset measures required.
Latham’s SnipeLatham’s Snipe has been recorded within the wind farm site. This species spends most of its time in wetlands. The limited extent and quality of wetland habitat within the wind farm site make it highly unlikely that an important population of this species resides on the wind farm site.Unlikely to pose risk to this species – no avoidance, mitigation or offset measures required.
Plains-wandererThe Plains-wanderer is unlikely to occur regularly at the wind farm site but may occur sporadically in very low numbers. Impacts on this species are considered negligible as several thousand hectares of potential sparse grassland habitat occurs on the wind farm site and only a very small proportion of this will be removed.Unlikely to pose risk to this species – no avoidance, mitigation or offset measures required.
Swift ParrotThe Swift Parrot may occasionally forage on flowering Sugar Gum within the Project site. The infrequency and likely small numbers of Swift Parrot on the wind farm site make a significant impact from the project highly unlikely.Unlikely to pose risk to this species – no avoidance, mitigation or offset measures required.
White-throated NeedletailThe White-throated Needletail (listed as migratory under the EPBC Act) is an aerial bird species that spends most of its life on the wing. The lack of forested vegetation or extensive planted treed areas indicates that the habitat is not the preferred type for this species. Notwithstanding this, at wind farms elsewhere the species has been repeatedly recorded colliding with operating wind turbines in small numbers. The numbers involved are unlikely to represent a significant impact on the population, which numbers in the tens of thousands and is considered secure.Unlikely to pose risk to this species – no avoidance, mitigation or offset measures required.
MAMMALS
Eastern Bentwing BatThe Eastern Bentwing Bat was recorded in very low numbers on the wind farm site (one call out of over 6000) during targeted bat surveys. It is not considered that this species occurs consistently on the Project site and significant impacts on it are considered highly unlikely.Unlikely to pose risk to this species – no avoidance, mitigation or offset measures required.
Yellow-bellied Sheathtail batThe Yellow-bellied Sheathtail bat was recorded in very low numbers on the wind farm site during targeted bat surveys (11 calls out of over 6000). Significant impacts on this species are not expected.Unlikely to pose risk to this species – no avoidance, mitigation or offset measures required.
REPTILES
Striped Legless LizardThe Striped Legless Lizard was recorded in native grassland habitats in the study area. Impacts on the population of this species in the Golden Plains Wind Farm study area is not expected to be significant as the development footprint is to be confined to a small percentage of the thousands of hectares of habitat in the area.Impacts on suitable habitat will be avoided wherever possible, including supporting continuity between areas of native vegetation for the lizard movements. There will also be a salvage and translocation protocol in the event that a Striped Legless Lizard is found during construction. Approximately 90ha of Striped Legless Lizard habitat will also be offset as part of the Project.
FROGS
Growling Grass FrogImpacts on the Growling Grass Frog from the proposed wind farm are likely to be insignificant or unlikely. The Growling Grass Frog is a nocturnal ambush predator and is unlikely to forage more than 100m from the waterline of wetlands. Four turbines are located within the floodplains of waterways with the closest turbine being a minimum of 100m away from the four major waterways and 30m from smaller intermittent streams.Infrastructure has been sited to avoid Growling Grass Frog habitat, with nothing placed within 100m of a potential Growling Grass Frog wetland.
FISH
Yarra Pygmy PerchThe Yarra Pygmy Perch has been recorded in a number of waterways that flow across the wind farm site, specifically on the Woady Yaloak River/Creek (Mount Misery Creek) and the Kuruc A Ruc Creek. Impacts of the Project on Yarra Pygmy Perch would not be significant as no project infrastructure other than overhead powerlines crosses the two waterways within which the species has been recorded and turbines are located a minimum of 100 metres from these and other major waterways.Unlikely to pose risk to this species – no avoidance, mitigation or offset measures required.
INVERTEBRATES
Golden Sun MothThe Golden Sun Moth occurs in suitable native grassland habitats within the study area, and as such may be affected by the proposed wind farm.Design has responded to this finding and impact to these habitats are avoided wherever possible. A conservative offset calculation method has been adopted that assumes all native grassland removed is Golden Sun Moth habitat and offsets will be secured for perpetuity.

One of the fauna species listed under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 was the Brolga (Antigone rubicunda). Impacts on the population of this species are not expected to be significant as the Project development footprint only occupies approximately 1.5% of the Project site and turbines have been located to avoid Brolga habitat.

Wind farms in Victoria are required to meet the policy objective of Zero Net Impact on the Victorian Brolga population. To achieve this objective, three levels of assessment were conducted, and information gathered at each assessment level informed the impact assessment, mitigation and offset strategies, and determined that the Project can meet the policy objective of a Zero Net Impact through implemented design changes and the establishment of a comprehensive Brolga Compensation Plan.

The Victorian protected Brolga has been historically recorded near the Project site. These records led Westwind to engage experts to undertake numerous studies from 2015-2018 to record Brolga activity on site and within 10km of the site boundary. All Brolga surveys were undertaken in consultation with the Department of Environment Land Water and Planning (DELWP) environmental team and included:

  • Desktop and ground surveys (from development site to 10 km out from the site boundary)
  • Landholder surveys and interviews out to 10 km from the site boundary
  • Breeding & Flocking Surveys
  • Aerial Surveys out to 10 km from the site boundary
  • Flight Path Surveys
  • Wetland Habitat Surveys
  • Collision Risk Modelling
  • Compensation Wetland Surveys

To achieve the policy objective of Zero Net Impact on the Victorian Brolga population, close consultation has been undertaken with the DELWP. Westwind has conducted extensive discussions with key environment, planning and technical personnel in DELWP to ensure that the application of the Brolga Guidelines to the Golden Plains Wind Farm is satisfactory.

The potential effects on the Brolga were quantified using a collision-risk model incorporating inputs specifically developed for this study. As a part of this, conservative assumptions were made that allowed for a ‘worst case’ scenario to be modelled. These included:

  • Turbines operate 24 hours per day
  • Turbines will operate at their maximum rotation speed all the time
  • Eight breeding pairs exist within 10 km of the site boundary
Brolga

The collision risk model indicates the wind farm could potentially impact the Brolga population by 1 to 10 individual Brolga over the 25-year life of the wind farm.  A Brolga compensation plan has been prepared to ensure the Project has a zero-net impact on the species as required under the Brolga Guidelines.  The compensation plan includes:

  • Restoration of three wetland sites within the Brolga habitat range
  • Mechanisms for on-title agreements to protect sites for the life of the wind farm
  • Management frameworks for implementation, monitoring and evaluation.
Potential Area of EffectDescriptionAvoid / Mitigate / Offset Measures
Habitat/WetlandsA significant proportion of the wetlands in the Radius of Investigation (ROl) have either been permanently drained and no longer considered suitable for use by Brolgas, or Brolgas have not historically been recorded there. However, two wetlands with historical breeding records occur within the south-eastern portion of the wind farm boundary.To minimise any potential impacts on Brolga wetlands, turbine-free buffer zones have been developed resulting in 12 turbines being removed and five turbines being repositioned. Further, as part of the Brolga Compensation Plan three wetlands will be restored for future Brolga breeding, in consultation with the DELWP and the local water authority. Landholder agreements for this part of the Plan will be finalised in due course.
Loss of PopulationIt is expected, under the worst-case assumptions listed above, that on average only one Brolga per year at most, will be lost as a result of the wind farm.A Brolga compensation plan will be implemented as part of this Project. This will focus on producing more young Brolgas by effectively managing additional breeding sites in cooperation with private landholders for the life of the project. Monitoring and review of this scheme will be conducted to ensure that it is effective.

Several waterways and waterbodies exist within the Project site, including Mount Misery, Kuruc-a-ruc, Ferrers and Mia Mia Creeks, a tributary of Warrambine Creek, as well as Baths Swamp. An impact assessment was undertaken for these waterways that concluded the project is consistent with the EES evaluation objective for surface water as it does not alter the discharge and distribution of floodwaters across the site. Numerous turbines have been repositioned to avoid natural ecosystems and waterways. Where a waterway intersection is unavoidable, infrastructure is designed to not alter the hydrology of the waterways.

The project design has avoided siting wind turbines within 100m of major waterways and 30m of minor, intermittent waterways.  The grid connection route and underground cable trenching and access tracks will intersect the waterways at several locations, however the Project’s activities are unlikely to have any impact on the available floodplain storage or downstream flood levels.

The specialist groundwater impact assessment for the wind farm identified that the groundwater table is generally below 3.5 m (the depth of excavation for the turbine foundations). As such, excavations for only a relatively small number of wind turbines are expected to potentially intercept groundwater. Similarly, the specialist groundwater impact assessment of the quarry identified that the proposed final quarry floor depth is not anticipated to intercept the groundwater table beneath the site.

In order to avoid potential damage to Groundwater Dependant Ecosystems (GDE), WestWind has relocated 16 turbines due to their close proximity to groundwater dependent ecosystems.

The ground water impact assessment was found to be consistent with the EES evaluation objectives.

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