A last-ditch attempt to stop an Oxford County wind farm, based on damage it will do to an endangered species, has run into a wall.
The East Oxford Alliance citizen’s group filed an urgent request last week with Environment Minister Glen Murray to stop the Gunn’s Hill Wind Farm because the project will kill little brown bats, a species whose numbers are plunging across North America and is now on Ontario’s and Canada’s endangered lists.
In a written reply on the minister’s behalf, the director of the ministry’s environmental approvals branch said it is the ministry’s priority to ensure renewable energy projects are developed in a way that will protect human health and the environment.
In the case of wind power, clear rules have been established to protect birds, bats and their habitats, Kathleen Hedley wrote.
The Gunn’s Hill Wind Farm, a 10-turbine project in Norwich Township, is required to conduct mortality surveys for at least three years after it starts up.
“If thresholds of bird and/or bat mortality are reached, contingency plans can be put in place to reduce impacts and additional monitoring is conducted to ensure the contingency plans are effective,” Hedley wrote.
Disappointed alliance member John Eacott said the bottom line is the wind power company is just required to collect bat and bird carcasses for three years before taking action: “This is the clear rules that Ontario has established – nothing has to be done.”
Fellow alliance member Joan Morris said the group will review its options.
Waiting to count carcasses of endangered species is irresponsible and completely incongruent with the intent of the Endangered Species Act, she said. “Three years from now may be too late for the little brown bat.”
A study released by Bird Studies Canada this month found bats dying at the rate of 18.5 per turbine in Ontario, well above the allowable 10-per-turbine threshold set by the province’s Natural Resources Ministry.
An estimated 42,656 bats were killed by Ontario wind turbines between May 1 and Oct. 31, 2015, including several endangered species, the study said.
North American studies of bat deaths and wind turbines have found bats are killed either by being struck by turbine blades or by air pressure changes caused by the turbines that burst blood vessels in their lungs.
Ontario’s Endangered Species Act, passed in 2007, originally prohibited killing or harming species on the endangered list and their habitat.
But that law was relaxed by the province in 2013 with introduction of a regulation letting wind companies and some other industries proceed with projects if they follow plans to mitigate damage to an endangered species.
Two environmental groups, Wildlands League and Ontario Nature, unsuccessfully challenged the relaxed rules in court. They appealed that decision to the Ontario Court of Appeal in April, and are awaiting a ruling.