There’s nothing left to do but wait for the final decision of an Environmental Review Tribunal on the status of a proposed wind farm in the southern reaches of Prince Edward County.
ERT members Hugh Wilkins and Marcia Valiante heard closing arguments from both proponents and opponents of wpd White Pines’ industrial wind project in an all-day hearing late last week before a packed house at the Wellington and District Community Centre.
The 27-turbine project near the south shore has been on hold since the ERT ruled in February 2016 the project would cause irreversible harm to wildlife, including Blanding’s turtles.
wpd Canada received a Renewable Energy Approval (REA) for the development in July 2015, but after a three-week hearing in December of the same year, appeals by the Alliance to Protect Prince Edward County (APPEC) and County resident John Hirsch proved to be successful and wpd was ordered to submit potential remedies in an effort to protect both the Blanding’s turtles and Little Brown Bats.
However, wpd received permission in March 2016 to commence with site preparation only to have a motion to stay construction awarded after Blanding’s turtles were spotted in the construction area.
It was clear neither APPEC or Hirsch were buying into the remedy proposals by wpd.
Some of the plans to protect the turtles included road work, altering road shoulders and planting vegetation to discourage nesting, monitoring from May to July and incubating found eggs.
APPEC’s legal counsel, Eric Gillespie, described wpd’s plan for Blanding’s turtle as, “a grand experiment”, but too risky to try out on this “fragile population”.
He emphasized wpd had provided no evidence such a plan had worked anywhere else, and further that it could have major adverse effects on the local ecosystem. With respect to Little Brown Bats, he argued plans implemented elsewhere are not relevant to this situation.
In an effort to protect the bats, wpd also proposed to not start turbines until wind speeds hit 5.5 kilometres per hour.
Hirsch said it could prove to be too late if bats were killed before action was taken.
“The bat situation is somewhat different since it is known from a lot of study that if you turn off the turbines, bats won’t be killed,” he said. “The REA, as it stands, calls for turbine operation to be curtailed in low wind situations only after a number of bat fatalities have occurred. The tribunal rightly concluded in the February 26 decision, that waiting for bats to be killed before taking mitigation action would not be enough to ensure the survival of the fragile population of Little Brown Bats.”
wpd lawyer Patrick Duffy told the tribunal members the company had provided solutions to the harms found by the ERT in its February decision and now the onus was on APPEC to prove the remedy proposals will still cause serious and irreversible harm.
This is the second industrial wind project in the County to make its way to an ERT in an effort to have an REA revoked.
Last summer, the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists’ were finally successful in their battle to have Gilead Power’s REA revoked for a nine-turbine wind project. In its decision, tribunal officials ruled the project would cause serious and irreversible harm to Blandings turtles and their habitat.
A decision on wpd White Pines is expected before April.
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