AGL's Torrens Island power station expansion gives us butterflies

Federal environment minister Peter Garrett will decide this week on what could be fate of the local bitter bush blue butterfly Theclinesthes albocincta.

The butterfly larvae only grows on a sand dune plant called Adriana quadripartita which is next to the planned expansion of AGL's Torrens Island power station - well it may be next to, or it maybe directly in the path of the expansion - the problem is nobody seems to know for sure!

AGL, the current owner of the Torrens Island power station has lodged an application under the Australian Government's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.

The application is for the minister to decide whether the project needs to be controlled under the Act. The problem is that AGL are not exactly sure how much land the new plant will cover, which depends on both the size and style of the generators and neither are they sure of the exact location of the Adriana. It looks very much as if the application has been based on a desktop exercise from far distant places.

Either way siting a power station so close to such a delicate ecological environment doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. For example the application talks about the need to re-route the island's main road around the site, but doesn't consider the effect on the Adriana. A recent Adriana research project put the size of the stand at a mere 200 square metres.

The company plans to add a further 770 MW of generating capacity to bring the total to 2200MW. The extra capacity will be in the form of peak load generators which AGL estimate will only be used 15% of the time. In other words the generators will effectively be used to power summer air conditioning.

The application also reveals that generator water will be sourced from an "underground fresh water bore", and will be discharged to land based evaporation ponds.

A Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) production and storage plant is part of the package. The LNG plant will be used as a backup to the main power plant in times of gas failure, but it's main purpose is to produce LNG for local consumption. 60% of production will be sold domestically.

Construction is expected some time in the next 5 years and will cover 2.2 Ha.

Adriana quadripartita is categorised as uncommon in the Southern Lofty Ranges area. More importantly the stand on Torrens Island is one of the last remaining stands near the metropolitan area. Moreover the application notes it may well turn out that the coastal form of the bitter bush blue butterfly is a distinct species.

The fact that the site is representative enough to be the subject of a peer reviewed scientific journal article says something about it's value.

As the applicants at this stage are not even sure of the extent of their impact, this should surely be an easy ministerial decision.

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