The provincial government is working on guidelines for determining appropriate locations for wind energy projects – but they might not be complete before a decision is made on a project that raises environmental concerns.
The Ministry of Environment is in the process of developing wind energy project siting guidelines.
Although the province is already home to a few wind farms, the director of the environmental assessment branch Sharla Hordenchuk said these guidelines come at an important time as the government has set a target of 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030. SaskPower wants to make wind as much as 30 per cent of its energy generation by that year.
But Hordenchuk couldn’t provide a timeline for the guidelines, and a 55-turbine project proposed for north of Chaplin Lake is currently working its way through the application process.
It’s the first wind project to trigger an environmental assessment, due to its potential effects on native prairie, species at risk, and bird and bat mortality. Chaplin Lake, 85 kilometres west of Moose Jaw, attracts tens of thousands of migrating birds every year.
Darrell Crabbe, executive director of the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation, called this process of evaluating the Chaplin Lake project before completing the siting guidelines “backwards.” Meanwhile, the executive director of Nature Saskatchewan Jordan Ignatiuk said the process was essentially putting the “cart before the horse.”
The two environmental groups are among a few that have been involved in consultations on the Chaplin Lake project.
Ontario-based Algonquin Power Co., which could not be reached for comment, pitched the site to SaskPower. Tim Schuster, SaskPower’s director of independent power producer developments, said the Crown corporation chose this proposal largely because of the cost of hookups to existing infrastructure.
The environmental impact statement for the project has successfully completed the Ministry of Environment’s technical review stage. The document was released for public review in the fall and received 137 comments – a comparatively high number, Hordenchuk said.
Based on the level of feedback, the government recently met with stakeholders like the wildlife federation and Nature Saskatchewan. Hordenchuk said the intent was to explain the project and proposed environmental impact mitigation, demonstrate the rigour of the environmental assessment process, and get additional input on environmental safeguards for wind energy projects.
While stakeholders praised the government’s consultation process, they continue to have concerns about the project’s location.
“We don’t think it’s the best location for a wind farm,” said Peter Prebble, director of environmental policy with the Saskatchewan Environmental Society.
Crabbe echoed that the location is “one of the most unfavourable sites they could have chosen.”
Feeling that despite those worries, “chances are it’s still going to be approved,” Ignatiuk said the recent meeting with the government served to push for higher standards for mitigation and monitoring measures the groups think will best serve the Chaplin Lake area. These include reducing the project’s footprint on native prairie, not operating during the peak bird migration period, and third-party monitoring of environmental effects.
The project is now awaiting a decision by the minister of environment.
The groups stressed they are supportive of wind energy in general, but “we do want to see all the projects well-sited so that they don’t run into difficulties,” said Prebble.
The government will be holding meetings on the siting guidelines.
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