COLLINGWOOD – Citizen scientists have proven beyond a doubt there is a population of endangered little brown bats in the area where wpd Canada Inc. plans to erect eight 500-foot wind turbines.
Evidence from three bat biologists was presented at the Feb. 28 appeal hearing of the Environmental Review Tribunal chaired by Dirk Vander Bent with panel member Hugh Wilkins in the Collingwood council chamber Feb. 28.
Witness and bat ecologist Sarah Mainguy said building turbines on the Clearview Township property would cause “serious and irreversible harm” to the endangered species. She was a witness for Preserve Clearview, a citizen group fighting the turbines.
Mainguy provided the panel with a map showing the prevalence of habitat of the little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) and other species in the wind turbine area in Clearview Township.
She said citizen scientists Betty Schneider and Susan Richardson collected 2,000 bat call recordings obtained over 43 nights from different houses.
“I went through the recordings to identify myotis. I screened all the calls and came up with the conclusion that 152 calls were identified as myotis and 146 were confident of myotis, all of which are endangered,” she said.
Mainguy said the women were not allowed on Beattie family land where the turbines would be built but were allowed on other properties in the near vicinity.
“We knew there were myotis but there are more than was earlier suggested. They are reasonably spread out in the area in red brick houses, which is their favourite.”
wpd has not provided information on where the bats are located, she added.
“We feel there is a large gap in the information provided in the pre-construction studies on where the bats are located. I feel this is a considerable gap especially in light of us finding quite a large number of bats,” she said.
The species became endangered in 2014 so there has been plenty of time for the company to find out where they are located, she added.
Myotis species are all considered endangered in Ontario and are at risk of extinction or local extinction.
“Obtaining site specific data would be very important moving forward. It’s standard practice to develop information on endangered species in areas of development and finding ways to mitigate that.”
Myotis species became endangered due to white nose syndrome, a fungus that effects bats during hibernation. It has caused the death of up to 100% of bat colonies in some areas in eastern Canada and the fungus is moving west.
When cross examined by wpd lawyer Jesse Long about the approved 27-turbine Amherst Island wind project on Lake Ontario, Mainguy said it wouldn’t transfer to the Clearview site.
“It is my evidence that there is more bats in this study area,” Mainguy said.
Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) lawyer Sylvia Davis called into question the fact that the researchers were citizens and not biologists and that Mainguy wasn’t on site with them.
She responded that the acoustic monitors were built for citizen scientists, that bat biologist Susan Holroyd, who was also a witness called upon by Preserve Clearview, had attended a recording session, and that the calls came with GPS data to prove the locations of the calls.
Dr. David Scott Reynolds, called upon as a witness by wpd Canada testified via Skype from Massachusetts. He said he visited the site once and drove around to look at the “significant habitat features.”
He noted that the area was agricultural and said bats don’t prefer open agricultural areas.
“There is nothing about the project sites that would attract bats,” he said upon cross-examination by Preserve Clearview’s lawyer, Paul Peterson.
When asked by Peterson if he knew where the closest provincially significant wetland area is to the site, Reynolds responded, “No.”
It was acknowledged that wind turbines kill both bats and birds and there was much discussion over mitigation efforts that include the slowing of blade circulation overnight during the bats active period which is roughly May to September.
He said wpd has an “aggressive” curtailment program for its mitigation efforts.
“This is a small project with a small population of bats. I don’t think there will be mortality,” he said.
Reynolds said wind turbines are not the largest threat to bats that also include aircraft strikes and predation by cats.
Witness and wildlife biologist Susan Holroyd grew up in Nottawa and knows the area well.
“The best location for the little brown bat is a combination of open area and buildings and that is Clearview from Duntroon to Stayner,” she said via Skype from Calgary.
This site is “unique” and no official data has been collected to establish a baseline population. No work has been done by the Ministry of Natural Resources to identity roosting and hibernating locations in Ontario for the bats.
“There is no inventory data for that area at all and it needs to be done,” she said.
Little brown bats are not long-distance migrators (like some of the large bat species that do not hiberate) but they can fly up to 200 kilometres between winter and summer areas.
Holroyd said she thinks that caves on the Niagara Escarpment would provide good winter hibernating locations for little brown bats.
“The whole area is ideal for bats, little brown myotis. You can have regional migration across that plane … You can have bats moving through the area that wind turbines are set up,” she said.
Once turbines are erected the only mitigation strategy they have is to curtail the blade speed, she said.
Studies done on bat kills are based on finding dead bats near wind turbines.
“There is not a lot of studies that have focused on the myotis fatality data,” she said when cross-examined by MOECC’s lawyer.
“I’m not totally convinced that mitigation strategy is effective for myotis,” she said, adding myotis deaths are being recorded at other wind turbine sites in Ontario.
Breeding female bats only produce one pup a season and only half of those survive – not including the effect of white nose sydrome.
“It’s really important to conserve the females,” Holroyd said.
The Fairview Wind Project got a Renewable Energy Approval (REA) from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change last February under the Green Energy Act.
The 16.4 megawatt wind project would create enough electricity to power 2,200 homes.
But an appeal was launched by multiple parties including Preserve Clearview, Clearview Township, The Town of Collingwood and the County of Simcoe.
The appeal was heard by the Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) and rule last October that the turbines would pose a threat both to human safety, due to the close proximity of aircraft at the Collingwood Regional Airport, and irreversible harm to the endangered bats.
That decision suspended the onset of construction on the sites located both north and south of County Rd. 91 between Stayner and Duntroon.
The Town of Collingwood spent almost $250,000 fighting the turbines in 2016 and has spent almost $300,000 in total, according to the treasury department.
Clearview Township has spent more than $100,000 fighting the turbines, according to treasury department figures.
Preserve Clearview is funding its legal expenses private through donations.
wpd Canada is appealing the ERT decision and the Feb. 28 hearing with the topic of the little brown bats is the result.
A decision on the hearing is expected in June.
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