A COLLECTION of humble plants clinging to 600 million-year-old rocks on a distant mountain range and a small dragon given to promiscuous sex under a hot sun have forced planners to redraw the map for the southern hemisphere's biggest wind farm.
The discovery that spinifex - normally an inhabitant of the red dirt plains below - is living on sediment probably deposited in the last Ice Age and has red mallee and gum coolibah trees for neighbours is so strange and rare that the Silverton wind farm designers have moved 153 turbines from some of the windiest ridges.
Sightings of hundreds of endangered tawny rock dragons, whose males fiercely compete for female attention by waving their front legs ''as if to say: 'Hi I'm over here,''' according to herpetologist Steve Sass, have also convinced designers to go back to their drawing boards.
These life forms have had an impact across the world. The $2.5 billion wind farm, on a 30 by 15 kilometre slice of near-desert about 25 kilometres north-west of Broken Hill, is being developed by Germany's Epuron Pty Ltd with Macquarie Capital Group, which has a joint venture with a Portuguese company Martifer Renewables. The NSW Government has approved 282 turbines, with a possible future total of 598 providing power to 440,000 homes, according to the project manager, Donna Bolton, who always knew skirting around sensitive habitats would mean dollars.
''It will cost money, in that you always go for the optimal placement. With the turbine, you are taking it from its optimal placement to a not quite so good placement, so its yield will come down marginally, but it's not a major issue for us and it's better to deal with it at the planning stage than at the construction stage,'' she said.
Mr Sass found the spinifex while working on the environmental impact assessment for the site last year. He rang John Benson, a senior plant ecologist with Sydney's Botanic Gardens Trust, who has devoted a decade to creating a database which classifies vegetation statewide and allows environmental assessors to check whether habitats need protection.
In this case, the database information persuaded the joint venture partners to protect the 300 hectares where the plants live. The wind farm's designers re-routed more than 15 kilometres of roads which will be used to carry the giant turbines and their 42-metre blades to the spine of the Barrier Range.
The trees clustering around the spinifex, nominated a year ago as endangered, are at the edge of their viability in this drought-stricken country and further global warming could wipe them out, Dr Benson said. ''If temperatures go up substantially, plants can't just pick up their legs and run,'' he said.
The wind farm will help the environment by reducing carbon emissions, he said.
Ms Bolton says the energy from the wind farm will be equal to 4.5 per cent of the electricity NSW now uses if the entire project goes ahead.
Gone with the wind: rare flora and fauna force change of plan