FINCH – An attempt by a group of residents from North Stormont to try to quash a wind power project from being constructed in the area ended in failure on Friday, after the Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal ruled they had failed to prove windmills would harm human health, local animal and plant life, or the environment.
The Concerned Citizens of North Stormont had appealed a renewable energy approval the Ministry of the Environment had granted to allow the project, Nation Rise Wind Farm GP Ltd., to proceed.
The process to arrive at a decision took many months. Weeks of hearings were held in Finch and Toronto, where the participants brought in dozens of experts to argue both sides about the potential impacts of the wind farm on people and the environment while being cross-examined by lawyers.
All of this evidence was summarized and assessed in the
“The appellant has not met the onus of proving that engaging in the project in accordance with the renewable energy approval will cause serious harm to human health, or serious and irreversible harm to plant life, animal life or the natural environment,” wrote Carter Whitney.
The company behind the Nation Rise wind farm, EDP Renewables, is understandably pleased with the tribunal’s decision and with the clear language chosen to reject the residents’ arguments. EDP’s director of development, Tom LoTurco, says the ruling should finally clear the way for the company to begin construction.
“With respect to the status of the project, we plan to move forward with construction activities this year, as planned. Commercial operation is scheduled for December 2019,” said LoTurco.
The residents and their backers at Wind Concerns Ontario – a provincial anti-wind farm group – are not ready to give up the fight. Their spokesperson Margaret Benke says they have 30 days to request a review of the decision, and they intend to do so.
The residents are not surprised by tribunal’s decision to dismiss their appeal. In fact, they knew going in it would be extremely difficult to scientifically prove a harm that had not happened yet would happen, to the tribunal’s satisfaction.
“Putting up the wind project will cause – not may cause, but will cause – serious harm to human health and to the environment. We knew it was our responsibility to prove that harm, which is nearly impossible. But we couldn’t just sit back and let the project go up without fighting it,” she said. “We knew this would likely be the outcome, but there are a couple options available to us as a way to appeal the decision of the tribunal, and that is the direction we will be going in now.”
The tribunal hearing was already an appeal of the Ministry of the Environment’s original approval of the Nation Rise project. The opponents route to appeal the tribunal’s decision would likely involve a judicial review before the Ontario Superior Court. Whereas this appeal could concentrate on trying to show the ministry erred in its approval of the Nation Rise project, a judicial review would have to show the tribunal’s decision based on the evidence presented in opposition to the approval was in some way flawed.
The basis of that next challenge to Nation Rise’s approval is unclear, as the opponents will need to meet to consider their options. There are also financial implications to consider since legal and transportation costs have been paid for largely out of their own pockets.
EDP Renewables declined to comment on the group’s intention to continue fighting Nation Rise without knowing what basis the next challenge would be built upon first.
Although it has no direct bearing on the tribunal’s decision, it is interesting to note that EDP has sold three-quarters of its ownership of Nation Rise to another company. The sale was announced on Dec. 31, just days before the tribunal’s decision was due to be released.
EDP sold 75 per cent of Nation Rise, along with two other facilities in Indiana and Kansas to a portfolio management firm, Axium Infrastructure. In the press release about the sale, EDP stated the reason for the sale was to “recycle capital, with up-front cash flow crystallization, and create value by reinvesting the proceeds in accretive growth, while continuing to provide operating and maintenance services.”
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