Nature Canada

Opposition to Ostrander Point Wind Plant Continues to Build

On Tuesday, March 8, the Kingston Field Naturalists organized a special workshop on the significance of eastern Lake Ontario for birds in light of several proposals to build wind energy projects in the area, and the high number of bird casualties reported at Wolfe Island wind energy plant . Representing Nature Canada, I gave a presentation on the Important Bird Area Program, placing the Wolfe Island wind plant and the proposed Ostrander Point wind plant in the context of this program.

Kingston Field Naturalists have a rich and long history of documenting birds within the Kingston area, which stretches from the west end of Prince Edward County to the Thousand Islands on the extreme east end of Lake Ontario. The workshop included a number of presentations by local naturalists and field ornithologists, who painted a picture of a part of Ontario with extremely high significance for breeding and migrating birds.

Data presented on behalf of Ron Weir, local ornithologist and bird record keeper for the club for decades, described how monitoring night migrants by their call notes to each other has demonstrated that millions of birds pass over the area each fall and spring. David Okines, life-long field ornithologist and manager of the Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory, (PEPBO) described the nature of the migration in detail, from the streams of diurnal raptors that hug the coast and funnel into the Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area, to variations within the timing of migratory movements of individual species of songbirds. PEPBO is on the tip of the Long Point peninsula on the southern coast of Prince Edward County, about 10 kilometres east of Ostrander Point. Okine’s presentation of observatory data collected over dozens of years left little doubt that the area is truly a concentration point for land birds and waterfowl, and that wind plants built in the area would inflict a heavy toll on some species.  However, the question of whether nocturnal migrant birds migrate along broad fronts, or form distinct corridors of movement was never clearly resolved, with perhaps the best answer being “yes.”

Valerie Wyatt of Stantec Inc., had a much greater challenge in presenting the methods and results of their study of bird deaths at the Wolfe Island wind plant, owned and operated by TransAlta Corp.  She explained, to a tough and cynical audience, that Stantec’s monitoring methods are considered the best in the business, while maintaining that the casualty rates at Wolfe Island are within the range of kill rates expected at wind farms, and below threshold levels of acceptable casualty rates set by the government regulators.

Local naturalist Kurt Hennige’s presentation of monitoring efforts of the Short-eared Owl – carried out for decades by members of the Kingston Field Naturalists on Wolfe and Amherst Islands – reached a different conclusion about the impact of the Wolfe Island wind plant. Hennige’s findings strongly suggest that the distribution of Short-eared Owl on Wolfe Island has changed because of the wind plant – they  no longer occupy the area around the turbines that have been their core wintering grounds for decades. The Short-eared Owl, a species that has declined steadily over the past 40 years, is listed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) as “Special Concern”.

Hennige also noted that the long-time resident Red-tailed Hawks were absent from their perches on the west side of Wolfe Island for the first time since observations were gathered dozens of years earlier. Observers who did the regular winter surveys became familiar with individual birds, recognizing their behaviour and consistent use of the same perches. Stantec’s monitoring crew had discovered 10 dead Red-tailed Hawk beneath the turbines, likely including the resident pairs.

The spotlight gradually shifted from Wolfe Island to Ostrander Point, where Gilead Power Corporation, is planning to build nine turbines on the Ostrander Point Crown Land block. Local volunteer naturalists from the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists, Myrna Wood and Cheryl Anderson, described in cool, unemotional detail where the turbines are being proposed on this environmentally significant property. They pointed out that the specific locations of the nine turbines are within the provincially recommended 120 metre setback from provincially significant features, including provincially significant forest, wetland or habitat of species at risk, such as the Blanding’s Turtle.

Left to right: Cheryl Anderson and Myrna Wood

No matter where on the property the turbines are situated, the proposed wind plant would be only seven kilometres from the Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area, designated for its value to migratory landbirds, within a candidate Provincial Area of Natural and Scientific Interest, in the heart of a globally significant IBA, and in an area recognized by the Canadian Wildlife Service as one of the best locations for migrant birds in Southern Ontario. It boggles the mind to consider what provincial regulators were thinking when Ostrander Point was put on the table as a location for a potential wind energy plant.

The meeting was closed by John Bennett, Executive Director of the Sierra Club of Canada. Bennett was invited by conference organizer Chris Hargreaves in response to an Action Alert released a few weeks earlier by the Sierra Club that included this statement:

There appears to be a backlash against wind energy across Ontario. Is it real? It looks suspiciously like a campaign sponsored by Ontario’s opposition Conservative Party and its backers. Using misinformation about costs and safety, it plays on people’s fears in order to destroy public support for Ontario’s Green Energy Act.

In an extraordinary and unanticipated reaction, and much to his credit, Bennett accepted the offer, and turned up for the last part of the workshop. He faced a hostile audience. Bennett did not apologize for Sierra Club’s position, emphasizing the overwhelming consensus that climate change, driven by the burning of fossil fuels like coal to generate electricity, is the issue that requires people’s attention and support, and that the attack on wind energy will put Ontario back 20 years in its campaign to get off coal. However, after taking in Myrna’s and Cheryl’s presentation, and describing Sierra Club’s position and reasons, he acknowledged that locating wind energy plants in areas of great significance for birds was both bad for biodiversity and bad for the wind energy industry, and that this element of rolling out wind energy will have to receive more consideration by Sierra Club .   In the end, Bennett agreed that Sierra Club would consider adding its voice to the growing opposition to the Ostrander Point wind project.

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