A Plympton-Wyoming group opposing Suncor Energy’s plans to build a wind farm in their community says the company’s study of the potential impact on migrating tundra swans is inadequate.
But, the company says it met provincial requirements in its application for environmental approval for the 46-turbine Cedar Point Wind Energy Project.
That application is currently being reviewed by Ontario’s Ministry of Environment.
“As part of the application for ministry approval, Suncor completed a natural heritage assessment to assess any potential impacts to significant habitat necessary to sustain wildlife, including birds,” said ministry spokesperson Kate Jordan.
That assessment will be considered as part of the review, she said.
“No decisions on the proposal has been made,”Jordan added.
The group, We’re Against Industrial Turbines, Plympton-Wyoming (WAIT-PM,) has been going through Suncor’s application documents and issued a press release pointing to a one-day site observation report that included a swan count carried out in 2012.
“I don’t think they gave an adequate look at it,” said WAIT-PW spokesperson Ingrid Willemsen.
“I think they need to look at an appropriate time for migration, and see that they wouldn’t interfere with the flight patterns.”
The Lambton Heritage Museum said Tuesday that thousands of swans could be seen in farm fields on the nearby former Thedford bog, a traditional stopover on the swans’ spring migration to nesting grounds in the Arctic.
“We actually did do all the studies that were required of us, as part of our renewable energy approval application,” said Suncor spokesperson Jason Vaillant.
That includes the natural heritage assessment, looking at wildlife and habitat in the project area in Plympton-Wyoming, Lambton Shores and Warwick Township, he said.
“It was the Ministry of Natural Resources that confirmed that the work that we’ve conducted was done in accordance with their guidelines,” Vaillant said.
He added the company plans to continue working to understand the wildlife habitat in the area, so that it can mitigate any impacts from the project.
“We really understand that impacts on wildlife, especially tunda swans, is important for the community,” Vaillant said.
“We’re heard that through all of our consultation with them.”
Concern about what wind turbines could mean for migrating swans, and other waterfowl, has been expressed in the past, including in 2012 when Ontario Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller said in his annual report he found shortcomings in the province’s guidelines for evaluating and reducing turbines’ harmful effects on birds, bats and their habitats.
Miller said turbines should be prohibited in Ontario’s Important Bird Areas, a designation held by the Thedford bog.
On Sunday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., the Middlesex-Lambton Wind Action Group is planning to hold its annual information day and demonstration at a popular viewing point for the swans, on Greenwood Road, near the Heritage Museum.
The wind action group is fighting several wind farm projects in the region, including Nextera’s Jericho Wind farm planned for Lambton Shores and Warwick Township.
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More study needed into wind turbine impact on waterfowl
Ontario could learn something from Europe about protecting waterfowl staging habitats from the impact of wind turbines, says the executive director of Long Point Waterfowl Research and Education Centre.
Scott Petrie said he believes more research is needed in Ontario into what impact wind farms may have on waterfowl habitat.
But, he added, “If we adopted some of the Danish recommendations, we wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
Those recommendations include not putting turbines within a kilometre of critically important waterfowl staging habitat.
Ontario’s guideline calls for a just a 120-metre setback from bird habitats for turbines, but concern has been expressed about what wind farms planned for northern Lambton County could mean for areas like the Thedford bog, where thousands of tundra swans traditionally rest in the spring on their migration to Arctic nesting grounds.
Waterfowl stopping to rest in the former bog can fly out across the area to feed on grain leftover in farm fields from the fall harvest.
“If all your wetlands are rimmed with turbines, and there’s turbines in the agricultural fields, it really compromises the suitability of that area for those birds to rest and put on body fat,” Petrie said.
European research points to a waterfowl feeding exclusion zone that extends 150 metres out from the base of turbines, as well as a zone 400 to 500 metres out that the birds tend to avoid, he said.
“If you’ve got wind turbines in spots that they shouldn’t be, it’s tantamount to habitat loss and habitat alteration.” he said.
Petrie said his concern isn’t that a large number of swans and waterfowl will be killed flying into turbines.
“I like to think waterfowl is smarter than your average bird,” he said. “They know enough to avoid turbines.”
The worry, he said, is that the building of wind turbines in Ontario will reduce the acreage available to waterfowl to feed in.
There are also questions about the cumulative impact of that loss, Petrie said.
“If you put 6,000 wind turbines in Ontario, what impact is that going to have?
“Nobody’s taking that into consideration, and nobody’s studying it.”
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