By Nichola Davies
Freedom of Information documents have revealed former environment minister, now treasurer Josh Frydenberg blocked plans to install a hybrid wind and solar plus energy storage microgrid on Lord Howe Island, essentially condemning the island to a future of dirty diesel.
The documents, requested by The Guardian, revealed Mr Frydenberg took the action of blocking the renewables project under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act on the grounds the microgrid was “unacceptable”.
Energy and mining projects are not often deemed “unacceptable” by the federal government and scrapped entirely, rather they’re given the opportunity to make revisions to elements of the plans the government objects to. We recently saw the David and Goliath battle that was the black-throated finch verses Adani drag out over years, but unlike in the biblical tale, Adani has come out the clear winner of that battle.
While a mega-mine with huge public disapproval got the green light, two wind turbines with overwhelming local support from Lord Howe Island citizens was too much of a bugbear.
The freedom of information document reveals Mr Frydenberg ignored the advice of his own department in 2017, the governing board of Lord Howe Island and federal government agency the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), which pledged $4.6m in funding to the project.
The environmental department advised Mr Frydenberg it was unlikely the project would affect the island’s world heritage listing status, that the turbine site was selected to reduce visual impact and the turbines could be shut off at sunset so as to not disturb migratory birds.
A spokesperson for the current environment minister, Sussan Ley said then minister Frydenberg considered “the proposed wind turbines would create a considerable, intrusive visual impact and that this would affect the spectacular and scenic landscapes for which the island group is recognised”.
“The minister concluded that the proposal would be an inappropriate development for Lord Howe Island and that the impacts on the island group’s heritage values could not be sufficiently avoided or mitigated,” she said.
The case brings into question the process for project approvals such as this one, where despite advice from government departments and community support, projects can seemingly be influenced by political ideology.
Energy Minister Angus Taylor has long had a turbulent relationship with wind energy, spotted at anti-wind rallies as a speaker alongside right-wing extremist Alan Jones.
Mr Taylor is however a big fan of hydro-electricity, describing renewables as “in his blood”, with his grandfather, William Hudson, being the first commissioner and chief engineer of the Snowy Scheme.