The Ministry of the Environment has turned down requests from Wolfe Island residents seeking a more detailed study of the effects of a proposed wind-power project in their community. In a letter dated March 27, citizens learned that the ministry had declined their request to require Canadian Renewable Energy Corporation to prepare an individual environmental assessment before the firm’s 86-turbine wind project is allowed to proceed.
“I am satisfied that the issues and concerns have been addressed by the work done to date by [the company], or will be addressed in future work that is required to be carried out,” Agatha Garcia-Wright, acting director of the ministry’s environmental assessment and approvals branch, wrote in the letter to residents.
Her decision to quash the individual environmental assessment – applied to large projects with potential environmental impacts – leaves residents feeling that the province is pushing the project without adequately addressing their health and environmental concerns.
Many saw the environmental assessment as their best chance to have their concerns addressed before construction began.
“We’re terribly frustrated,” said Ed Kenney, one of the residents who’d asked for an environmental assessment. “Our local council hasn’t done due diligence and the province hasn’t, either.
“It’s [Ontario’s] policy to shut down the coal plants that’s driving this. It’s the fallacy of being green. The green is the money this project is going to bring [to its proponents].”
Kenney said it’s starting to feel as if no amount of public opposition will slow the project.
“We’re not against wind power, we just want it done right,” he said. The retired Ministry of Transportation manager and boat captain was raised on Wolfe Island and is one of dozens of local residents who have serious concerns about the impact of the 90-metre-high turbines on the local environment, wildlife and people.
Those concerns have included the impact on bird and bat populations and wetlands, as well as on human health from low-level sound and light flicker. Residents have also been concerned about setbacks, or the distance between the turbines and schools, homes and roads.
In addition, citizens had asked that the location of some of the turbines be reviewed so that they can be placed in a more environmentally sound manner.
The ministry has also declined that request.
A bump-up to a full environmental assessment would require Canadian Renewable Energy, a subsidiary of Alberta-based Canadian Hydro Developers Inc., to prepare a study that includes more government oversight, scrutiny and objective review of the details of the project than it is otherwise required to produce.
The company is currently required to complete an environmental review, which outlines the impacts of the project but includes a lesser degree of public input than a full environmental assessment. The company has been working on that report for the past two years. Construction can’t begin until the environmental review report is approved by the ministry.
Electricity projects in Ontario are subject to one of three levels of assessment with an environmental screening report being the first level and the individual environmental assessment being the most stringent. Canadian Hydro’s environmental review falls somewhere in the middle in terms of its level of detail and public input.
No wind-power project in Ontario has ever been required to complete an individual environmental assessment.
Rob Miller, project engineer for the Wolfe Island wind proposal, said Canadian Hydro is pleased with the ministry’s decision. He said the company is dealing with those concerns in its environmental review report.
“The [report] is a comprehensive document and we believe it adequately addresses any potential effects of the wind plant,” he said.
“The key conclusions of the report is that there will be net positive environmental effects to this project and if there are any adverse environmental effects, they can be adequately mitigated. On top of that, you have all the social and economic benefits of the wind plant.”
Miller said Canadian Hydro expects construction to begin this summer with the site likely to become operational roughly 10 to 15 months after that.
The public has until April 17 to appeal the ministry’s decision.
Kingston and the Islands MPP John Gerretsen, who’s also Minister of the Environment, will have final say in the approval of the Wolfe Island project.
Posted By Jennifer Pritchett
April 9, 2008
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