Horizon Wind Inc., has been trying for five years to build a series of wind turbines on top of Thunder Bay’s Nor’Wester mountain range. It’s got a good deal in terms of Ontario’s generous Green Energy Plan which pays developers handsomely to put up windmills or solar panels and feed the provincial grid with electricity that will be missing as dirty coal plants are closed. But getting approval to build the big towers is by no means guaranteed. Environmental regulations are tough and public approval hard to come by. So far, Horizon has satisfied neither.
It did finally submit a Request for Environmental Approval late last week, a process years in the making because so many questions must be answered. Details of Horizon’s application will come soon when it is posted on a government website. But the company did offer some idea of its position.
Addressing a longstanding complaint, the REA says the wind farm avoids sugar maple stands along the face of the escarpment – trees that will soon burst into fall colours relatively unique among this area’s mostly yellow birch and poplar leaves. That was accomplished largely by moving turbines back from their original proposed location to answer concerns from neighbours below, who never the less remain vehemently opposed to the location in general.
The REA says the wind farm will provide up to eight per cent of the city’s power needs. Hydro-electricity and conversion of the Ontario power generation plant to natural gas will provide more juice than the greater Thunder Bay area can use. Still, it will always be better to use clean wind power than gas power – when the wind blows.
Horizon makes the startling claim that “experts have found that we are not located in the migratory paths of birds.” It’s got to be awfully close, given the fact a key North American migration route passes over Thunder Cape at the end of the Sleeping Giant, home to the busy Thunder Bay Bird Observatory, a joint project of the Thunder Bay Field Naturalists, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Bird Studies Canada.
Included in birds passing by are Peregrine falcons which are subject of intensive recovery efforts by the MNR. In February of 2011, then minister Linda Jeffrey said construction and operation of the Big Thunder Wind Farm “is likely to harm, harass or kill Peregrine falcons.”
In a letter to Horizon, Jeffery wrote: “ . . . based on the material provided to me by the Ministry as well as my knowledge of the project location, I don’t know how the proponent could satisfy the conditions to allow my Ministry to issue a permit to allow the project to proceed.”
Horizon appears to believe that it has now satisfied those conditions. It has always professed confidence in its proposal which now faces the ultimate test of environmental approval.
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