Why late consideration of bird and bat guidelines could delay your wind farm project

The pace of the renewable energy transition is accelerating, and the race for access to the grid continues. It makes sense that Environmental Impact Statement schedules are tight and designed to get projects up and running sooner.

In the midst of this rapid progress, it’s important to remember that although wind farms are a more sustainable energy solution, wind energy infrastructure can still have negative impacts on birds and bats. As we advance in our quest for such solutions, confronting the intricate challenges of bird and bat management on wind farm projects becomes imperative.

What about agency requirements for bird and bat monitoring? Did you know that you need a 24-month monitoring dataset and an adaptive management plan before assessment of your proposed wind farm can be completed and an approval decision made?

Bird and bat impacts from windfarms

These regulatory measures are not without reason. Aside from the vegetation clearing required to facilitate construction of wind turbine generators, access tracks and project infrastructure, birds and bats face direct threats from collisions with turbine blades. These combined impacts can lead to further decline in listed threatened species populations, and in some cases can cause significant impacts on common species such that they could become listed in the future. To reduce project approval risk, careful planning and site layout design informed by a robust monitoring dataset and adaptive management plan is critical.

The guidelines

In lieu of a bird and bat guideline in NSW, there is a collection of documents that provide guidance on survey methods, classifying turbine risk and development of an adaptive management plan. The Commonwealth Government has also recently released their Onshore Wind Farm Guidance document for projects that require referral to the Commonwealth Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW).

The NSW and Commonwealth guidance documents both require a 24-month bird and bat monitoring dataset, with one survey per season, totaling 8 monitoring events. The Biodiversity and Conservation Division of NSW DCCEEW and the Commonwealth DCCEEW require as many of these monitoring events as possible to be completed prior to commencement of their assessment of the project (ie EIS lodgement). This can throw a pretty significant spanner in the works of your tightly wound EIS schedule if you fail to commence the bird and bat assessment early enough.

Spurred by a 12-month period in which no new wind farms were approved, and a 5-month moratorium on construction of the Willatook Wind Farm, the Victorian Government has recently announced plans for a package of wind farm tools and guidelines. Through a better understanding of impacts on important bird and bat species in Victoria like the Southern Bent-winged Bat and Brolga, the package would guide developers in minimising adverse impacts of wind farm projects on birds and bats, providing greater certainty around approval timeframes and conditions.

Our Approach

Optimal outcomes can be achieved when bird and bat assessments are considered at the scoping report stage. This approach allows for:

  • Collecting enough preliminary information on the site to commence early engagement with regulators;
  • Confirming the bird and bat utilisation study design with regulators prior to the receipt of Secretary’s Environmental Assessment Requirements and commencement of bird and bat surveys;
  • Work with wind farm developers and their design teams to inform an iterative design process that avoids and/or minimises biodiversity impacts.

EMM’s Ecology team includes bird and bat specialists who bring invaluable insights on the target species and strong experience in developing monitoring programs. Our expertise can assist wind farm developers in answering key questions around collision risk and placement of wind turbine generators to avoid and/or minimise turbine strike on bird and bat species.

By collaborating with specialists in this field early in the planning process, developers can navigate regulatory requirements more effectively and minimise potential delays in project approval. This proactive approach can result in more sustainable project designs and provide local communities and regulatory bodies certainty that risks to local bird and bat populations have been addressed.

Engaging early in your planning process will help you stay ahead of the game and on track for your EIS.  



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Katie Diver
Associate Ecologist