The cost of tending to the already built pieces of the cancelled Nation Rise Wind Farm amounts to $100,000 a week, an Ontario Supreme Court hearing learned on Friday.
The hearing was held after EDP Renewables, the owner of the project, asked the court for a judicial review of Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks Jeff Yurek’s December decision to revoke the renewable energy application approval for Nation Rise. It had been hoped the hearing would have taken place earlier this year, but it proceeded on Friday under COVID-19 measures, which included a video feed from the courtroom.
The potential impact the project might have on big brown bats, hoary bats and little brown bats – all on the Species at Risk Ontario List, were first presented during week-long Environmental Review Tribunal hearings held in 2018, prior to the start of project’s construction. Despite the potential impact the tribunal decided such risks were negligible, and that the project could move ahead.
The project would have resulted in 29 wind turbines being erected throughout the north end of the township, most of which had been partially built when Yurek cancelled the project. If it had not been cancelled, the plan was to have had turbines in operation by the end of March, which was when Nation Rise’s contract with the province’s electrical system was to begin.
Counsel for various entities, such as the minister, the organizations affiliated with the project and the Concerned Citizens of North Stormont, all pleaded their own opinions Friday, as to why the cancellation should stand or why it should be overturned.
Supporters of the project hoped the minister’s decision could be overturned and the work could be restarting. Their argument is that the minister did not have the authority to cancel the project’s approval based on bats, mostly because he was not asked by those appealing the project to consider these questions, which the tribunal had already dealt with.
“This is a case about the eleventh-hour cancellation of a several-hundred-million-dollar project,” John Terry, counsel for Nation Rise Wind Farm and its parent company EDP Renewables, told justices Harriet Sachs, Katherine Swinton and Lise Favreau. “The project was cancelled by the minister when more than two thirds of the towers were partially or fully in place and all the foundations were in place.”
Furthermore, Terry outlined that there now exists a material risk that the turbines might be damaged in their unfinished states.
“Two-thirds of them have been sitting out unfinished since December” he added. “Various damages can occur. We emphasize the point that it becomes particularly problematic when it comes to the high demand for wind turbine components and what can be available and what isn’t.”
According to Terry, the work stoppage has incurred a high amount of cost to the company behind the wind farm – $100,000 a week. This is in addition to its costs to cancel the contract with the province’s electricity supply system and the monies already spent in construction. It’s these costs the Ontario auditor general is expected to investigate, as she agreed to do so after a request from the NDP late last year.
Yurek’s counsel on the other hand, reiterated he indeed had the right to revoke the approval and that the potential risk the project presented to North Stormont’s bat population warranted its cancellation.
“Given the minister’s findings in terms of the small size of local bat populations, the seriousness of the harm and indeed the irreversibility of it and the fact that it was a potential for future harm, we think that his decision was appropriate and reasonable,” said Juie Im, counsel for the minister.
The minister’s other counsel, Andy Jen, for his part told justices Yurek was within his right to issue his decision, and that there had indeed been procedural fairness, something which supporters of the project had initially denied.
“The decision at question is executive, it’s made by the minister and it represents his supervisory authority over the ministry,” said Jen. “The court should not make any direction regarding the administrative steps on how the minister should be reconsidering.”
A decision was reserved on Friday, and will be issued by the court to the parties when ready.