Friday, February 11, 2011

Birders want wind energy, but not in IBAs

Near Long Point, Lake Erie, Ontario
In September and early October 2009, Nature Canada carried out a survey to explore Ontario birders perceptions of modern wind energy projects, or “wind farms,” and the impact of these installations on birds. The findings of the survey were published in the December 2010 issue of Ontario Birds, the journal of the Ontario Field Ornithologists (OFO).

Two hundred and sixty four birders from across Ontario and a few beyond completed an online survey. We found that Ontario birders reflect a fairly wide spectrum of interests, income and education, yet share similar concerns about climate change and global warming, and generally see wind energy as an important industry to combat this threat.

The vast majority of respondents (92%) consider it important to reduce consumption of fossil fuels. The concern for global warming appears to translate into strong support for wind energy from approximately 60% of respondents with only 20% not supporting wind energy. Despite the support for wind energy, approximately 60% of the respondents believe that wind energy impacts birds, and an even stronger proportion (70%) believe that wind projects have no place in Important Bird Areas or in avian migratory corridors.

However, we also found that most birders recognize that wind energy in the wrong place can pose a threat to bird populations. The wrong place, in ranked order according to survey participants, includes Migratory Bird Sanctuaries (MBSs), Important Bird Areas (IBAs), National Wildlife Areas (NWAs) and parks. Some birders – over one-third of those sampled – also said they would be discouraged from visiting the iconic birding locations of Point Pelee or Prince Edward Point if wind farms were built near them.

Near Shelburne, Ontario
Nature Canada’s survey comes at a critical time for the future of wind energy in Ontario – with the recent passing of the Ontario Green Energy Act, the number of wind installations in the province will increase dramatically. Wind energy producers are eyeing any location with wind, which of course includes many areas that are well-known for the significance for birds.

In June 2010, the province proposed draft regulations to open up the development of “off-shore” wind farms. The proposed regulations included a five kilometre buffer around all of the Great Lakes shorelines and major islands to protect water intakes as well as important cultural and natural features and functions.

The province already has a mishmash of policies and regulations that can best be described as a “work in progress.” They reflect the conflicting priorities of government agencies, and a continual pressure to adapt to growing local opposition to wind plants, while supporting and promoting the tenets of the Green Energy Act. Once finalized, these regulations will be part of the approvals process of the Green Energy Act, and are designed to lift many of the bureaucratic barriers to developing green energy projects such as wind farms.

Assessment of impacts of wind energy installations has focused on bird mortality, and more recently bat mortality, caused principally by collision with turbine blades. Concerns have also been raised about loss of habitat from installations, which could reduce breeding productivity or reduce survival if birds are displaced from habitat by the presence and construction of turbines, and by the movement of maintenance vehicles, and by the disruption of flight routes caused by avoidance of wind plants.

Gilead Power Corporation, a privately owned wind energy developer, has proposed a wind energy installation, the Ostrander Point Wind Energy Park, inside the globally significant Prince Edward County South Shore IBA near Kingston Ontario, and on provincial Crown land that is also a candidate Area of Natural and Scientific Interest.

The wind park is only a few kilometers from the Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area, the only NWA specifically recognized for its importance for migrating landbirds. Environment Canada has described the site where the turbines are proposed as “one of the best areas for birds in southern Ontario.”

For us at Nature Canada, the Gilead project is a good example of a wind energy project that is being proposed in the wrong place – in fact the worst possible place in terms of risk to birds. If approved, we believe the project is likely to have significant impacts on a very rich breeding bird community and on migratory birds that depend on Ostrander Point’s natural habitats.

Nature Canada, and our Provincial Partner Ontario Nature, strongly oppose the project and have urged the Province and Gilead to withdraw it, but so far to no avail.

Across the country, Nature Canada is calling on federal and provincial governments to ensure wind energy projects do not come at the expense of this country’s birds and other wildlife.While it appears so far that most projects have a very minimal impact on bird populations, in the wrong place, projects could be disastrous.

We are already seeing evidence of this at TransAlta’s Wolf Island Turbines, where casualty rates as much as 10 times that of most other wind plants have been documented, with birds of prey such as the Red-tailed Hawk and aerial insectivores like swallows appearing to be particularly vulnerable.

To get wind power right in Canada, we are urging governments to enact policies and regulations that ensure the following:
  • Wind turbines and wind farms should not be located in Important Bird Areas or other areas with particular significance to congregating, migrating or breeding birds.
  • All wind farm proposals should be subject to an environmental assessment prior to development to assess their impact on all wildlife, including birds and bats.
  • Any wind farms that already exist within migratory corridors or bottlenecks should be subject to the best practices for mitigating their impacts on birds, especially during migration season.
Join Nature Canada in calling on the Government of Canada to enact wildlife-friendly green energy policies – sign the petition to get wind power right!

Read more about Nature Canada’s position on wind energy development.

Nature Canada would like to thank OFO for supporting and publishing “What birders in Ontario think about wind energy in relation to birds”, by Nature Canada’s Ted Cheskey and Ahmed Zedan.

Our bird conservation efforts in the James Bay and Hudson Bay region are supported by The Ivey Foundation.


Victoria said...

Great post. It clearly and objectively presents the situation and the issues.

Just one point, however.

While the petition (which I do intend to sign, regardless) is aimed at the federal government, my feeling is that the main recipient of this petition should be the Ontario government.

In its zeal to go "green" (which is commendable in itself) the McGuinty government has rather undemocratically quashed debate on the issue of wind farms, repeatedly refusing to listen to the experts about the harmfulness of wind farms to migratory birds and other wildlife. And let’s not even mention the hotly-debated issue of the impact on humans!

The Ontario government stripped municipalities and landowners of any say in the matter from the get-go and refuses to entertain proposals to study the impact of wind turbines on bird, bat and other wildlife populations.

The Canadian government can work on the issue at a national level, but at the moment, it is the Ontario government that needs to hear our concerns most of all.

Now that it is an election year in Ontario, it might be wise to raise some awareness at Queen’s Park. Mr. McGuinty needs to know that a great many Ontarians (and Canadians) are deeply concerned about the impact of wind farms on Ontario’s wildlife.

It seems so sadly ironic to me that an energy program that is in essence “environmentally friendly” could actually be destroying the environment by disturbing migratory patterns and by further endangering the wild species we are all working so hard to protect.

In the end it begs the question, how green is the Green Energy Act? Just what are we all doing this for, if in the end the natural world that we are pledging to protect is destroyed regardless?

SEA said...

The McGuinty Government should certainly be petitioned as many Ontario from across Lake Ontario.Toronto has closed off any access with its massive glass buildings,and as more and more birds are killed in the Spring and Fall the fewer we see. Mr McGuinty meets with developers and shortly after hectares of the oak Ridges Moraine are freed up for development. Somehow I have a nasty feeling that this Ottawa resident has only one interest which is money.
Kenneth Arliss