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Frustrated by what they say are thousands of unreported bird and bat deaths, activists are calling for the new provincial government to take a closer look at the hundreds of wind turbines that dot rural Ontario.
These conservationists want the Environment Ministry to scrutinize what they say are flawed environmental assessments on the province’s existing turbines, saying the huge industrial windmills are responsible for tens of thousands of bird and bat deaths across Ontario each year
These deaths, they say, are not counted properly.
Part of that could be chalked up to Ontario’s regulations: large turbines can tower more than 150 metres high but the province only requires inspectors, when counting bird and bat deaths, to measure 50 metres from each base.
“A lot of the birds that get hit are flung well beyond that point,” Brian Salt, owner of the Mount Brydges animal rehabilitation clinic Salthaven, said. “They’re not counted in that survey.”
The danger can become more acute for birds during their seasonal migrations, said Linn Eves, owner of Bluewater Centre for Raptor Rehabilitation.
“There’s always bird activity; there’s more right now because of the migration and again in the springtime. . . . I wish there were volunteers that maybe could check the areas for injured birds.”
According to conservation charity Nature Canada, thousands of birds are killed in Canada each year through collisions with turbines, or through disruption of migratory routes and habitat destruction.
If turbines surpass the province’s allowable threshold for mortalities – 14 small birds and 10 bats per turbine, per year – their owners must alter them accordingly.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, when contacted by the Sarnia Observer, stressed “the majority” of turbines do not exceed this allowed threshold, adding ministry staff would continue to monitor bird and bat mortality in Ontario.
“The wind industry is committed to respecting and protecting wildlife habitat and the environment, particularly for birds and bats,” Brandy Giannetta, a member of the pro-turbine Canadian Wind Energy Association, wrote in an email. “Our recently published Bat Conservation Review ensures industry and regulators have access to the most current information available, so they can make science-based decisions.”
But for many conservationists, the turbines remain another problem for species in a rapidly developing Southwestern Ontario landscape.
“Bats are already in big trouble with white-nose syndrome, and things like that,” Salt said. “We’ve added that extra stressor to them.”
In 2015, Blue Point resident Kristen Rodrigues volunteered to audit the Renewable Energy Approval for a wind farm near her house, saying the company behind the project, Suncor, was “not even looking at the public’s interests” while changing aspects of its wind farm after public consultation.
The 46-turbine Cedar Point II Wind Energy Centre northeast of Sarnia was completed in October that year and was later ceded to NextEra Energy Canada, the current owners.
“I didn’t have an opinion one way or another. I really didn’t,” Rodrigues said. “But when I started learning about how they were doing the process, it really bothered me.”
NextEra Energy did not reply to a request for comment.
That’s not to say inspectors aren’t doing their jobs. One inspector speaking anonymously said his company accounts for “estimator variables” by planting test carcasses in the area. These fakes are intended to measure how effective their measurements are, and the company then adjusts the results based on how many of the dummy carcasses are found.
Other variables such as predators are also accounted for, the industry source said, suggesting their methods tend to overestimate, rather than underestimate, bird and bat deaths. Wind farms are often tested more than once.
Inspectors are required to test between the beginning of May and the end of November. That seven-month range is the minimum and does not account for winter months.
The Cedar Point II wind farm was not measured over the winter, and that’s a problem, Rodrigues said, advocating for an updated, 12-month assessment.
“Just because you’re not being listened to doesn’t mean you stop talking,” Rodrigues said. “Some day somebody’s going to listen.”
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