The Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle is at the mercy of wind farms at Woolnorth
wind farm in north-west Tasmania. The company is putting in measures to reduce
the number of birds killed by the turbines..
If ever a case signalled the end of easy answers to our search for clean
energy, it's that of the wedgie.
We have had a complex relationship with the wedge-tailed eagle. Last century it was nearly
annihilated as a sheep killer.
This writer remembers driving along a ghastly fence line hung for a kilometre
with wedgie carcasses after a local shoot in Victoria's western district.
Today such prejudices have largely disappeared. Respect for the country's
great raptor instead approaches the historic norm. Eagles have stood for us as
symbols of strength and power from the days of the Ancient Greeks.
Still the wedgie gets run over on our roads, and flies into things that share
its aerial domain ? such as wind turbines.
As we search for means to sharply cut carbon emissions from energy
production, increasingly we are turning to wind farms.
In Victoria alone there is the prospect of 1322
new turbines and their towers being built in 28 separate developments.
Another 376 would slice the breeze at three farms planned for Tasmania. And
the country's single largest wind farm, under development at Silverton, New South Wales, plans to landscape
a tract of the outback with 598 towers.
All of this doesn't happen without opposition, particularly from people who
see losses to their previously unindustrialised homelands. Occasionally the
issue will flare into national controversy, such as over the orange-bellied
The Howard government environment minister, Ian Campbell, halted a $220 million wind farm development at
Bald Hills in Gippsland in 2006 because it might kill small numbers of the
critically endangered parrot.
Campbell was ridiculed by Labor for a decision that coincidentally delivered
electoral good news to a marginal Coalition seat around Bald Hills. Eventually
he had to reverse it.
It's a pity that the parrot, a fleet little beauty now close to extinction,
became a joke in the Bald Hills barney. We should hope that if the wind farm
explosion happens, we would deal much better with species protection.
That's why the case of the wedgie, more exactly its endangered Tasmanian
sub-species, gives pause for thought.
Larger than its mainland cousin at a 2.2-metre wingspan, its head often
encircled with a regal golden feather ruff, the Tasmanian wedge-tailed numbers
fewer than 1000 birds.
Its heartland is the state's wild forests, where it can be glimpsed soaring
the ridgelines, disdaining the harassing ravens and currawongs like a monster
At the state's largest wind farm at Woolnorth in the island's north-west, 19
wedge-tailed eagles are known to have been killed since it began operations in
2003. Another three sea eagles also have hit the rotors.
This is allowed. Federal and state environmental permits recognise
Woolnorth's rotors may kill a small number of eagles each year.
Operator Roaring 40s is keenly conscious of the image problem killing eagles
poses. It refused access to pictures of the Woolnorth fatalities.
Nevertheless to its credit, the company, a joint venture of Hydro Tasmania
and China Light & Power Asia, has tried hard to reduce the strikes.
It employs an avian ecologist to run a mitigation program, and does what it
can, like clearing the ground beneath the 62 turbines of potential eagle food.
Turbines have been shut down in some wind conditions, or when eagles are seen
Bird scaring devices have been employed, even the audibly painful long range
acoustic device (LRAD) that Japanese whalers use against anti-whaling
"All the eagles did was come and investigate," said avian ecologist Cindy
Hull. "The frustration for us is that the rate is staying constant despite our
So the company is spending money on eagle nest protection and education
around the rest of Tasmania, which is hoped to help offset the Woolnorth
As we navigate through the great difficulties of carbon taxes or cleaning up
coal, an alternative as apparently benign as wind power seems all the more
attractive. But if the wedgie and its like do not make it too, our re-energised
world will be much the bleaker.
Andrew Darby is The Age and
Sydney Morning Herald Hobart