The Ontario government needs to put more areas of the province off limits to wind turbines to protect migratory bird and bat populations, says the province’s environment commissioner.
In a report released Tuesday at Queen’s Park, Gord Miller said the construction of industrial wind turbine projects needs to be balanced with protection of bird and bat species.
And that is good news for a group that recently authored a report on the effects of wind turbines locally.
“He’s really nailed it,” said Chris Hargreaves of the Kingston Filed Naturalists.
“He’s calling for the cumulative report and he’s also pointed out that a green energy policy needs to be green in all respects.”
Hargreaves, along with Erwin Batalla and Barrie Gilbert, authored a report released in August that stated an estimated 12 million migratory birds would be at risk if two offshore wind turbine projects are built in Lake Ontario near Kingston.
“The use of wind power must be balanced by the equally important goal of protecting birds and bats,” Miller said. “To accomplish that goal, we need to be smarter about where we place wind power facilities.”
In his 198-page report, Miller stated the Ontario government has released guidelines for evaluating and reducing the impact of wind turbines on bird and bats and their habitats.
But Miller pointed out a number of “significant shortcomings” in the guidelines.
In North America, 75% of the bats killed by wind turbines are migratory bats. Three of Ontario’s eight bat species are migratory but there are no guidelines in place to identify and protect bat migration routes.
Miller also pointed out that although 70 important bird areas have been identified throughout the province, there are no rules banning wind power development in those areas.
“Given the importance of selecting sites that minimize the harm to birds and bats, it just makes sense to avoid building wind energy projects in these species’ most ecologically sensitive locations,” he said.
Miller also said existing and proposed projects are being assessed on an individual basis and there has been no recognition of any potential cumulative impact of multiple turbine projects build adjacent to one another.
The Ontario government has imposed a moratorium on offshore wind turbine development pending additional scientific study.
According to the Kingston Field Naturalists, the two proposed wind energy projects would involve the construction of 286 turbines around Main Duck Island, a stopover point for migratory birds and a nature reserve under the protection of Parks Canada.
Hargreaves said he would like Miller’s report to prompt the government to strengthen protection for migration routes as well as nesting habitat.
Hargreaves also said Miller’s report is significant because it acknowledges the threat wind turbines can pose to bat populations, species that up to now have not received as much public interest as birds.
Joshua Wise of Ontario Nature said Miller’s report was important because it pointed out the cumulative impact of individual wind turbine projects.
Wise said wind turbine projects, such as proposals for Amherst Island and in Prince Edward County, are assessed on an individual basis. But when those projects are added together they could potentially create major problems for migratory birds and bats.
“It’s basically creating a wall of wind turbines,” Wise said.
Lake Ontario between Prince Edward County and Wolfe Island is an acknowledged migratory flyway for 300 species of birds heading to U.S. wintering grounds and returning to Canada in the spring to nest.
Wise said his organization does not oppose wind energy, but he said attention has to be paid to building turbines in areas that minimize their impact on animals.
“That balance is there. It’s something we have to find.”
– with files from Paul Schliesmann
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