Wind Energy Project Jeopardizes Globally Significant IBA

Gilead Power Corporation has submitted a proposal to construct a 9-turbine wind energy farm at Ostrander Point, in Prince Edward County, Ontario. Ostrander Point lies within the Ostrander Crown Land Block owned by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) and is located just west of the Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area, near the eastern end of Lake Ontario. The location of the proposed Ostrander Point Wind Energy Park is near the centre of the globally significant Prince Edward County South Shore Important Bird Area and only a few kilometres from the Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area – the only National Wildlife Area specifically designated for its importance to migrating landbirds. This globally significant Important Bird Area (IBA) is designated for its high concentration of landbirds during migration as well as waterfowl. Additionally, Ostrander Point is a candidate provincial Area of Natural and Scientific Interest due to its significance for migrating birds and its rare alvar habitats (it is likely it has yet been officially recognized due to this controversial project).

IBAs are some of the most significant sites for birds on earth. BirdLife International the global authority of bird conservation first developed this program in Europe, recognizing that some species of birds are dependent upon very specific places for their survival, and that some places are very important for the survival of large numbers of species. BirdLife is an international partnership, now active in over 100 countries. In Canada, Nature Canada and Bird Studies Canada are the official partners responsible for delivering the IBA program to Canadians. In many provinces, we work in partnership with provincial nature-conservation organizations such as Ontario Nature, to get the program to the ground and work with local individuals, groups, government official and First Nations to ensure that IBAs receive the attention and protection they deserve and need.

Prince Edward Point South Shore Important Bird Area, also called Prince Edward Point Important Bird Area on the IBA Canada website , is one of about 100 IBAs with conservation plans, developed in concert with local community members. When the conservation plan for the Prince Edward County South Shore Important Bird Area was developed in 2001, a large number of people, including representatives from the local Ministry of Natural Resources’ (MNR) office, contributed to the plan, the mapping of the specific IBA boundaries, and the plan’s recommendations. The Ostrander Point Crown Land Block was one of the key-stone sites within the IBA, which spans a much larger area from Prince Edward Point to Point Petre and which includes offshore areas also for congregating waterfowl. Known as a potential site for rare and threatened species, and connected by scrub and forested shoreline and coastal habitat to the National Wildlife Area, Ostrander is central to the function of the IBA – particularly given that it was in public ownership by the MNR and thus not under the same risks for development as private land. At the time, disturbance from all-terrain vehicles was one of the big issues within the IBA, but in the bigger scheme of things, this was relatively minor, and something that could be managed through education and negotiation. At Ostrander Point, the question was when MNR would have resources to implement a restoration plan to encourage grassland habitat in an area already very significant for birds.

No one at the time could have dreamed that the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, legally responsible for protecting Ontario’s natural heritage, would consider promoting an industrial wind farm on a site that they were also in the process of nominating as an Area of Natural and Scientific Interest for Natural Sciences due to its importance for migrating birds and the rare alvar habitat present there.

In 2004, a few years after the publication of the conservation plan, the MNR made a policy decision to make some of its Crown land assets available for “green energy” projects. Such a policy change would make the way easier for small, independent electricity generating projects to take place in central and northern Ontario, where much of the land is owned by the crown. This policy change also opened up the playing field for wind energy developers, but it was not accompanied by efforts to systematically identify areas where wind energy projects should be excluded, as is currently the case with offshore turbines. Rather, projects were proposed and in some cases developed without a policy framework to guide where they would be located.

In our view, Ostrander Point Wind Energy Park is the most egregious example of how the good idea of wind energy can end up in the worst of all possible places due to the lack of a planning an policy framework in place.

Nature Canada is a strong supporter of the Ontario government’s effort to rapidly deploy wind energy as an essential strategy to meet the urgent need to reduce the greenhouse gas impacts of our energy system. We support most wind energy projects and recognize that projects cannot be developed without some impact to wildlife. However, the development of the Ostrander Point Wind Energy Park crossed a line for us. We see its consequences as extremely risky and potentially catastrophic for birds. We can only hope that either the developer or the Province will come to their senses and withdraw this project.

On March 10, 2009, Nature Canada provided Gilead Power Corporation with specific comments on the Draft Environmental Review Report, released in January of 2009. In September 2010, Gilead released a Draft Natural Heritage Assessment & Environmental Impact Study, including reports specific to birds and bats, prepared by Stantec Consulting Ltd., which is open for comments until November 24, 2010. Nature Canada, in concert with Ontario Nature, took this opportunity to emphasize its opposition to the project. Our position is simply that the proponent, and the government of Ontario reject the proposed Ostrander Point Wind Energy Park; given the significant impact it is likely to have on the area’s birds and bats, and to seek an alternative site for the project outside of the IBA. No more studies are required to confirm the areas significance.

Gilead’s own contracted reports on birds leave no doubt about the significance of the site for both migrating birds and breeding birds. Anyone who has birded in this remote part of Prince Edward County knows that, at times, this area can be a “river of birds“ due to its unusual geography and exceptional habitat. Radar studies in the bird report posted on Gilead’s website describe up to 160,000 birds passing through Ostrander Point during the fall migration, of which approximately half were flying at turbine blade height. Both the consultant’s data, and data from near-by Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory demonstrate that high numbers of both familiar species such as swallows and Saw-whet-owl, and at-risk species such as Whip-poor-will and Common Nighthawk would be at significant risk from this project. Swallows and nightjars (Whip-poor-will and Common Nighthawk) are aerial insectivores – species that feed exclusively on flying insects. Insects are known to concentrate around the spinning blades of the turbines, perhaps due to the lower air pressure or the colour of the blades. One does not have to be a rocket scientist to connect the dots and understand the heightened risk to these species, which concentrate along the Great Lakes shorelines including Ostrander Point, during their migrations.

Moreover, this site is one of the most concentrated areas for hawk and owl migration, with numbers of hawks peaking in early October at 70 to 109 observations/hour. On a single day in October, 60 golden eagles, an endangered species in Ontario, and more than 1,000 red-tailed hawks flew over nearby Prince Edward Point.

Fourteen conservation priority species from Partners in Flight (of which Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources is a partner) breed within Ostrander Point including Northern Harrier, Whip-poor-will (recently listed as Threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act), Black-billed Cuckoo, Northern Flicker, Willow flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Wood Thrush, Brown Thrasher, Field Sparrow, Savannah sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, Eastern Meadowlark and Baltimore Oriole. Most of these species are experiencing serious declines in Ontario. The area also has high densities of Wilson’s Snipe and American Woodcock, two species for which the males conduct aerial displays at approximately the height of the turbine blades.

Most of the coastal habitat of the lower Great Lakes – Ontario, Erie and Huron has been modified or transformed for human use. Little natural coastline remains. Ostrander Point is natural habitat – alvar, scrubland, grassland, forest and wetland. It is superb habitat for birds and the arthropods, berries and seeds that sustain them. Because it is located on a narrow peninsula (the Long Point peninsula, smaller, but similar to the famous peninsula of the same name on Lake Erie), migrants are concentrated in higher densities during migration due to the funneling effect of the peninsula.

Gilead’s Ostrander Point Wind Energy Park has the potential to kill high numbers of migratory birds, permanently damage a significant breeding bird community, and jeopardize the government’s responsibility for protecting s Ontario’s biodiversity. Ostrander Point should not be an industrial wind “park” but rather it should be conserved and managed so that its significance for migrating and breeding birds is ensured in perpetuity.

Click here to read Nature Canada’s full comments.

Photos by Myrna Wood