A proposed wind farm in southern Prince Edward County has the potential to have the highest bird mortality rate in North America, an expert in the field claims.
Bill Evans, an ornithologist based in Ithaca, N.Y., who has studied the impact of turbines on birds and bats, said the nine-turbine Ostrander Point Wind Energy Park – to be located on a peninsula on the south shore of Prince Edward County – could cause “serious and irreversible” harm to some species in the province.
Evans, who was hired by the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists to study the potential impact of the project on bird mortality, gave his testimony to a tribunal in the county Friday.
In December, the field naturalists appealed the Ministry of the Environment decision to allow the turbines to be built on crown land by corporation Gilead Power.
The group claims the proposed site has been designated as an “Important Bird Area,” established in 2001 to acknowledge the importance of waterfowl, migrating birds and birds of prey (raptors) in the region.
To compare the potential impact of the Ostrander project on bird mortality, Evans reviewed studies from the Wolfe Island wind project and the Maple Ridge wind project, located in northern New York State.
But Evans said he found inconsistencies in the way the data was collected.
In some cases, researchers collected bird and bat carcasses within a 50-metre radius of the base of the turbines during the period of the study.
However, Evans said guidelines developed in 2007 by Environment Canada stated most carcasses fall within 80 metres of the base of the turbines.
“I discovered that there has been considerable underestimation of fatalities reported to the public by the Wolfe Island wind project,” Evans said. “In my tribunal testimony, I noted a discrepancy between positions taken by (the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources) and Environment Canada regarding the distance of carcasses (that) land from the base of a wind turbine.”
In the case of Wolfe Island, Evans said more than 50% of bird and bat carcasses fall within a 50 metre radius of the turbines. However, based on his analysis of bird mortality at Maple Ridge, 40% of small birds fall within the 50 to 80-metre radius of the turbine base.
The Ostrander Point project proposes to include nine turbines that measure larger than those operating on Wolfe Island.
For that project, Evans argued the effects on bird mortality will likely be greater.
“I noted that the Ostrander wind turbines would be even larger than those on Wolfe Island … yet the fatality study protocol approved by both the (MNR) and the (Environment Canada) still only involves surveys out to 50 metres.”
Evans questioned why government researchers failed to include carcasses found beyond a 50-metre radius in the Wolfe Island study.
“This appears tantamount to a cover up, but I have no direct evidence,” he said.
Evans argued bird mortality will also be impacted by the site of the proposed Ostrander Point project.
“The Ostrander wind project could have, by far, the highest bird mortality per megawatt in North America,” he said. “I base this on the fact that if the nearby Wolfe Island project’s 2010 fatality data is corrected for estimated fatalities out of 80 metres, it would have 8.9 bird fatalities per megawatt, which … is the highest bird fatality in North America for any wind farm with more than three turbines. I pointed out to the tribunal that Wolfe Island, while it has notable concentration of birds, does not have the large concentrations of migratory land birds caused by the funnelling dynamics of the (Prince Edward County) peninsula.”
Evans said the estimated number of bird and bat deaths would not have a significant impact on global populations of any one species. However, for certain species experiencing declining populations, such as the purple martin, he said, the location of the Ostrander Point project could have a major impact.
“The fatality assessment system in Ontario appears to be disorganized to the point of being disingenuous, or perhaps simply the latter,” he said. “As I demonstrated to the tribunal, the data that is currently available from the Wolfe Island wind project and other Ontario fatality studies using similar fatality survey methods is not accurate. A catch-22 develops where it is impossible to demonstrate “serious and irreversible” harm to birds if it might exist and the whole appeal process appears to border on straw man theory.”
Evans’ testimony will continue in Prince Edward County on Monday.
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