NORWICH TOWNSHIP – At the proposed 10-turbine Gunn’s Hill wind farm, both the company and anti-wind turbine advocates expect a certain number of little brown bats to be killed.
The point being contended, however, is just what constitutes an acceptable mortality rate.
The East Oxford Community Alliance felt the risk to these bat species was important enough to file an urgent request on July 14 to halt the Gunn’s Hill wind power project with the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change and the Environmental Review Tribunal. It has also requested that its appeal of the Norwich Township project be reopened.
“We filed to halt the project until further investigation and until it can be shown that effective protective measures are in place to prevent serious and irreversible harm to the little brown bat, the eastern small-footed bat, and the other endangered species known to be present at the Gunn’s Hill project site,” East Oxford Community Alliance chair Joan Morris said.
“We have not heard back from the ministry yet.”
The Gunn’s Hill LP noted its intention to operate the Prowind Canada project in accordance with the approval that was upheld at the Environmental Review Tribunal, which includes reference to the bats.
“In post-construction, we will be monitoring in accordance with the guidelines on threshold limits for bat mortality,” Prowind Canada vice-president Juan Anderson said. “That threshold is 10 bats per turbine per year.”
The provincial approval requires three years of post-construction monitoring at each turbine twice weekly from May 1 to Oct. 31. The approval also required searcher efficiency testing to factor into monitoring results, monitoring to account for potential bat carcass removal rates by local scavengers and required operational changes under certain conditions if bat mortality exceeds 10 bats per turbine per year, which would prompt an additional three years of monitoring.
“A threshold approach will be used to identify and mitigate significant bat mortality (potential negative environmental effects) resulting from the operation of wind turbines,” states the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resource’s Bats And Bat Habitats – Guidelines for Wind Power Projects.
“Bat mortality is considered by this guideline to be significant when a threshold of annual bat mortality (averaged across the site) exceeds: 10 bats per turbine per year.”
The recent letter from the East Oxford Community Alliance contends that, “Two subsequent tribunals – Hirsch vs. MOECC, and Ostrander Point /PECFN – have emphasized that the precautionary principle does in fact apply in consideration of serious and irreversible harm to the natural environment, and that harm to an endangered species must require remedial mitigation as required in the act.”
These tribunals, which took place after the Gunn’s Hill appeal, found that wind farm projects should not be allowed to harm an endangered species first and then try to fix the problem later.
“You can’t have two sets of rules for different sites,” Alliance member John Eacott said.
While actual numbers on bat populations in Ontario are scarce, the province arrived its guidelines about years ago, determining that exceeding a threshold of “10 bats per turbine per year” would have a potential negative impact on these endangered species.
In fact, Craig Willis, an associate professor of biology at the University of Winnipeg, and his students are facilitating the expansion of the Neighbourhood Bat Watch into Ontario to get better numbers on bat populations. Local residents can visit their website at www.batwatch.ca to report the location of a bat colony.
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