Environmentalist and former Greens leader Bob Brown opposes a $1.6 billion wind farm because it will spoil the scenery

Bob Brown poses for a photo with supporters during an anti-Adani Carmichael Coal Mine rally on April 26, 2019 in Airlie Beach, Australia. (Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)
  • Wind and solar energy company UPC Renewables proposes to build a 200-strong farm of 270-metre-tall wind turbines on Robbins Island in northwest Tasmania. It is expected to create 300 jobs, according to UPC’s application to the state’s Environmental Protection Agency.
  • In a letter to the editor of the Hobart Mercury, former Australian Greens leader and prominent Tasmanian environmentalist Bob Brown has slammed the Robbins Island project, saying it will affect the looks of the state’s coastline as well as local bird populations.
  • Brown called for more transparency around alleged deals between UPC and the cattle-farming Hammond family, which owns the land, arguing that one of “one of the biggest wind farm projects on Earth” should be subject to more public consultation.

Bob Brown is not the first person to whinge about the ugliness of wind turbines. But as a veteran environmentalist and advocate for renewable energy, the former Australian Greens leader is surely the most surprising.

The Tasmanian Environmental Protection Agency is currently reviewing a proposal by Hong Kong-headquartered wind and solar energy company UPC Renewables to build a farm of 200 wind turbines on Robbins Island off the state’s north-west coast. UPC claims the project will create 300 jobs in the remote region during the construction phase and 50 full-time ongoing roles, according to its application to the EPA. It expects the site will generate between 400 and 1000 megawatts of energy and could be an appropriate site for renewable energy battery storage, according to its website.

But at least one Tasmanian is not happy about the proposal. In a letter to the editor of the Hobart Mercury, republished on his foundation’s website, Brown slammed the Robbins Island project, partly on aesthetic grounds.

“Mariners will see this hairbrush of tall towers from 50km out to sea and elevated landlubbers will see it, like it or not, from greater distances on land,” Brown wrote in the letter, republished on his foundation’s website.

“Its eye-catchiness will divert from every coastal scene on the western Bass Strait coastline.”

In addition to the alleged “eye-catchiness”, Brown worried about the impact on migratory and critically endangered wetland bird populations who call the island home for half the year and questioned the lack of transparency surrounding the commercial deals underlying the project, including the relationship between UPC and the Hammond family, which owns the land on which the site is proposed.

“The Hammond family has owned Robbins Island since 1958, agisting and then farming Wagyu beef cattle. The arrangement between the Hammonds and UPC is not known,” Brown wrote.

“The Tasmanian public, including the people of the North-West of the island, has not been properly informed of the private deals, or public impacts or cost-benefit analyses (economic, social, cultural and environmental) of this, one of the biggest wind farm projects on Earth.”

In true Tassie fashion, Brown also took issue with the fact that mainlanders would be the beneficiaries of the energy generated and not locals, with an export cable planned to run beneath the Bass Strait.

Alex Hammond, a representative of the cattle-farming owners of the land, told The Australian his family wouldn’t be signing off on anything that negative impacted the local environment.

“We are cattle people, we love the environment,” Hammond reportedly said. “Part of our brand, which sells our beef around the world, is that we are in the cleanest, greenest area in the world … So we certainly don’t want to do anything to impact on that.”

But local environmentalists the Nietta Action Group seem to be locked arm-in-arm with Brown, posting on Facebook that residents have “grave concerns” about the UPC project and that renewable energy must not come at the expense of the “natural assets of north-west Tasmania”.