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Threats from industrial wind turbines to Ontario’s wildlife and biodiversity

Introduction

The precautionary principle outlined in The Bergen Agreement, signed by Canada in 1990, has become, over the past fifteen years, part of customary international law and has been included in virtually every recently adopted treaty and policy document related to the protection and preservation of the environment. It states: “policies must be based on the precautionary principle. Environmental measures must anticipate, prevent and attack the causes of environmental degradation. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation”.

The unprecedented rapidity with which industrial wind turbine developments are being proposed and constructed in Ontario, raises major concerns about the efficacy of the Green Energy Act which has allowed and promoted this phenomenon.

1. Adverse environmental effects from industrial wind turbines

Industrial wind turbines do not have a benign environmental foot print as has been claimed.

2. Ontario bird and bat mortality studies: Wolfe Island

Almost all post operational studies of wildlife mortalities from turbines in Ontario have been unavailable to the public, allowing government and industry to contend that wind turbines kill very few birds. The avian mortality records from Wolfe Island, however, have now disclosed the highest recorded rate of raptor casualties outside California. Each of the 86 industrial wind turbines on Wolfe Island killed an average of 13.4 birds during the first year of operation. Some of the species killed are already experiencing population declines: for example, the Tree Swallow and the Bobolink. Until we have public access to independent mortality studies, we will not know the full impact.

Albert Manville, Senior Wildlife Biologist, Division of Migratory Bird management at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has warned: “The numbers of Bird Species of Conservation Concern killed by wind turbines is increasing, and that’s troubling. These species are already declining, in some cases rather precipitously.”

3. Serious flaws in the Green Energy Act

The government pushed through the Green Energy Act (2009) with negligible legislative or public discussion. The Act exempted renewable energy projects from much of Ontario’s existing environmental legislation.

One of the most troubling provisions of the GEA is the reversal of onus clause that requires citizens to prove a project’s harm to the environment or human health. The Chatham-Kent tribunal demonstrated that confronting government and proponent lawyers is well beyond the financial means of most Ontarians, making a mockery of the Statement of Environmental Principles which insists that the need for public engagement and public consultation is vital to sound environmental decision- making. It also debilitates the Environmental Bill of Rights (1994) which encouraged “enhanced ongoing engagement with the public as part of environmental decision making”.

4. Regulations

An essential flaw in the Regulations is the “fast tracking” provision for environmental assessments which allows the proponents of renewable energy projects to submit their own environmental screening report by hiring an accommodating consultant. Many questions have been raised as to the scientific rigour of these reports:

Proponent-commissioned reports have generally been rubber-stamped by the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Natural Resources. The Wolfe Island project, for example, was approved despite its location on a major migratory bird corridor adjacent to provincially significant wetlands, staging areas and an Important Bird Area (IBA).

Although the industry continues to claim that it avoids placing turbines near sensitive habitats, far too many projects have been constructed, approved or proposed near critical ecosystems which support threatened species, provincially significant ANSIs and provincially significant wetlands—e.g. Wolfe Island, Ostrander Point, Arran Lake, Point Pelee National Park, coastal wetlands associated with Lake St. Clair, and Manitoulin Island among them. Numerous wind turbines have been proposed for construction in close association with coastal wetlands along the lower Great Lakes (Lakes St. Clair, Erie, and Ontario). Coastal wetlands provide critically important staging habitat for nearly 30 species of migratory waterfowl. In fact, millions of waterfowl use these wetlands each spring and fall to rest, feed and acquire the body fat necessary for migration and reproduction. Approximately 85% of our coastal wetlands have already been drained and converted to agriculture and urban development; those that remain are regularly being compromised by additional human impacts and invasive species. Consequently, it is critically
important that we do our utmost to conserve and protect all remaining coastal wetlands.

There are other problems and inconsistencies with the Regulations and Guidelines.

5. Advice of international biologists

Repeatedly biologists around the world have stated the obvious and simple warning: industrial wind turbines must be kept well away from sensitive natural habitats, including important migratory corridors.

6. Recommendations

Revision of the Green Energy Act and its Regulations and guidelines is imperative to bring it into compliance with pre-existing environmental protection legislation.

The onus of proof of environmental damage must be reversed to make developers of renewable energy projects responsible for their actions and bring these projects into compliance with the Provincial Policy Statement.

7. Questionable effectiveness in saving GHG emissions

Here we discuss wildlife issues related to poorly regulated industrial wind turbine development but the rationale for building the turbines should also be examined.

The ideology behind industrial wind turbine installation has not been validated by experience. It is now apparent that wind turbines will not diminish Ontario’s carbon footprint just as they have failed to do anywhere else in the world.

Government advisors and ministers did not listen to the warnings of electricity generation professionals who pointed out the practical complications of adding intermittent and unpredictable wind energy to the grid. Stability can only be maintained by running fossil-fuelled plants inefficiently on standby to back up all potential wind production.

European experience has demonstrated that coal plants cannot be closed in exchange for non-base load wind energy. Germany, which has installed over 20,000 industrial wind turbines, has increased CO2 and other GHG emissions and new coal plants have had to be built to compensate for the destabilizing effect of wind energy. Ontario is building more gas plants for this same reason.

Bennet & McBee (2011) were the first to systematically assess the emission reduction performance of wind generation based on hourly generation and emissions data from Colorado and Texas in the Bentek study. It shows that previous claims were significantly overstated and that actual CO2 reductions are either so small as to be insignificant or too expensive to be practical.

Summary

The dwindling areas of wetland and other specialized ecosystems which provide habitat for threatened and endangered species are especially vulnerable to disturbance and degradation from this form of rural industrialization. Migratory avian species including raptors, waterfowl, waterbirds, passerines and bats are particularly vulnerable to displacement from critical habitats and collision mortality. Government and developers have downplayed the negative environmental footprint of wind turbines. However, as developments proliferate, post construction monitoring points to unforeseen cumulative effects and many looming
environmental concerns. Ontario’s Green Energy Act with its inadequate regulations and guidelines governing the siting of renewable energy installations is urgently in need of revision. Better information on the effects of industrial wind turbines must be obtained through rigorous study and the precautionary principle of the Bergen Agreement adhered to before further construction proceeds and incalculable irreversible damage is done to Ontario’s natural heritage.

Keith Stelling, MA, MNIMH, Dip. Phyt., MCPP
Friends of Arran Lake
Central Bruce-Grey Wind Concerns Ontario

Scott Petrie, PhD
Executive Director, Long Point Waterfowl
Adjunct Professor, University of Western Ontario

References

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Bennet, P., and B. McBee. 2011. The Wind Power Paradox: Bentek Market Alert. Crowder, A.A., and J.M. Bristow. 1988. The future of waterfowl habitats in the Canadian lower Great Lakes wetlands. Journal of Great Lakes Research. 14:115-127.

Dennis, D.G.,, G.B. McCullough, N.R. North, and R.K. Ross. 1984. An updated assessment of migrant waterfowl use of Ontario shorelines of the southern Great Lakes. Pages 37-42in Waterfowl Studies in Ontario, S.G. Curtis, D.G. Dennis and H. Boyd, editors. Canadian Wildlife Service Occasional Paper No 54.

Desholm, M. 2006. Wind farm related mortality among avian migrants – a remote sensing study and model analysis. Ph.D. Thesis, National Environmental Research Institute, Denmark.

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Frondel, M., N. Ritter, C. Vance, F. Scheffer, and C. Schmidt. 2009. Economic impacts from the promotion of renewable energies: The German experience. Final Report: Rheinisch-Westfa?lisches Institut fu?r Wirtschaft sforschung (Rhine-Westphalia Institute for Economic Research).

Herdendorf, C.E. 1992. Lake Erie coastal wetlands: an overview. Journal of Great Lakes Research. 18:533-551.

Irish Electricity Supply Board (ESB). 2004. Impact of Wind Power Generation in Ireland on the Operation of Conventional Plant and the Economic Implications: ESB National Grid.

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Kunz, T., E. Arnett, W. Erickson, A. Hoar, G. Johnson, R. Larkin, M. Strickland, R. Thresher, and M. Tuttle. 2007. Ecological impacts of wind energy development on bats: questions, research needs, and hypotheses: Journal of Wildlife Management 71:2449–2486; DOI: 10.2193/2007-270.

Liik, O., R. Oidram, and M. Keel. 2003. Estimation of real emissions reduction caused by wind generators: Tallinn Technical University, Estonia.

Manville, A.M. 2005. Bird strikes and electrocutions at power lines, communication towers, and wind turbines: state of the art and state of the science – next steps toward mitigation: Proceedings 3rd Internatl. Partners in Flight Conference. USDA Forest Service Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-GTR-191, Vol. 2: 1051-1064.

Ontario Power Authority (OPA). October 2007. Integrated Power System Plan.

Petrie, S.A. 1998. Waterfowl and Wetlands of Long Point Bay and Old Norfolk County: Present Conditions and Future Options for Conservation. Unpublished Norfolk Land Stewardship Council Report. Long Point Waterfowl, Port Rowan, Ontario.

Petrie, S.A., S. Badzinski, and K.L. Wilcox. 2002. Population trends and habitat use of Tundra Swans staging at Long Point, Lake Erie. Waterbirds: 25:143-149.

Petrie, S.A., and K.L. Wilcox. 2003. Migration chronology of Eastern Population Tundra Swans. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 81: 861-870.

Prince, H.H., P.I. Padding, and R.W. Knapton. 1992. Waterfowl use of the Laurentian Great Lakes. Journal of Great Lakes Research. 18:673-699.

Schummer, M. L. 2005. Comparisons of resource use by Buffleheads, Common Goldeneyes and Long-Tailed Ducks during winter on northeastern Lake Ontario. Ph.D. Dissertation. University of Western Ontario. London, Ontario.

Stewart, G. B., and A.S. Pullin. 2004. Effects of wind turbines on bird abundance; Systematic Review No.4: Centre for Evidence-based Conservation, University of Birmingham, England, 49p.

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