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Environment, Ontario Politics

When Birds and Bats Make Strange Bedfellows

Image by Chris Trimmer.

Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives have found a new ally in their efforts to reduce the number of wind turbines in certain parts of the province: Nature Canada, a member-based, not-for-profit whose stated mandate is to “protect and conserve wildlife and habitats in Canada by engaging people and advocating on behalf of nature,” have lent their support to the efforts to limit wind turbines in what they call Important Bird Areas (IBA). Not known for their strong environmental credentials, the Conservatives have got to enjoy that they have found support in the unlikeliest of places.

Except it’s not as unlikely as it seems. While the public may not associate Ontario’s PCs with green alternatives, here is one situation where a pervasive dislike of wind turbines meets true environmental concern over their placement. To indicate this an issue beyond party politics, the Conservatives stated they are prepared to reach out to Andrea Horwath, leader of the New Democrats, to solicit her party’s support on the matter as well.

Attacking what he calls Premier McGuinty’s “gold rush” mentality regarding green energy, Tory MPP Todd Clark indicated their primary concern in this instance is the protection of migrating birds and bats that hug the shoreline of Lake Ontario near Prince Edward county. At critical risk are the Blanding’s Turtle and the Whip-poor-will, in addition to five threatened bird species noted by the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists: among them, the Broad-Winged Hawk, the Loggerhead Shrike and the King Rail.

To strengthen his case, Clark brought along veteran PC MPP, now Senator Bob Runciman, whose November 2011 Senate motion calling for a halt on all wind turbine development within three kilometers of shore passed with unanimous consent. Runciman stated “clean, renewable energy should help, not harm wildlife,” adding that the current policy aims to “kill, harm and harass” any wildlife located near wind turbine placements.

By way of example, Runciman noted that American Audubon ornithologist Bill Evans claimed the Wolfe Island wind turbine farm had the second highest kill rate of all wind farms in North America. These, and others like them, are “wildlife killers.”

Nature Canada supported Runciman’s motion in the Senate and will likely add their support to any on-the-ground initiatives started at the provincial level. “We believe in good things in good places” claims Nature Canada’s Ted Cheskey, manager of bird conservation programs. “Wind turbines should not be located in Important Bird Areas,” adding that poorly located wind turbines can take a deadly toll on wildlife, easily offsetting the benefits of renewable energy in the first place.

Nature Canada is not the only environmental organization the Conservatives can count on in support of their proposed moratorium: the Sierra Club of Canada, the National Audubon Society and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds are all vocal opponents of wind turbines in IBA’s. Clark indicated that studies from the latter two groups reference the “recklessness” of turbines located as Ostrander Point in Prince Edward County in particular.

Runciman and Clark were quick to indicate at the press conference held Tuesday afternoon at Queen’s Park that this was not putting a new face to old or knee-jerk opposition to wind turbines in general. Both repeated that this was simply “the wrong place for this kind of project.”

Their issue is with the lack of local input into the placement of wind turbines across the province, and the sense that in their efforts to support green energy alternatives to coal and nuclear power, the Premier has made green energy a “trump card” which supersedes all other concerns.

The Minister of Energy, Chris Bentley, has concluded his mandatory two-year review of the Feed-in-Tariff project, and will make an announcement tomorrow morning on potential changes to the program. Clark expressed his hope that the announcement will include some transfer of control from the provincial to the local level pertaining to turbine placement.

If the turbines have to go up, at least local input and knowledge can be brought to bear on the location.

About awreeves

Editor-in-chief at Alternatives Journal. Author of 'Overrun: Dispatches from the Asian carp Crisis'.


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