By PAUL SCHLIESMANN, THE WHIG-STANDARD, thewhig.com
A 60-turbine wind farm proposed for the waters of Lake Ontario off Kingston may not get closer than five km to the city shoreline.
The provincial environment ministry has recommended a five-km “shoreline exclusion zone” so that offshore wind projects don’t interfere with drinking water intakes, fish and bird habitats or produce excessive noise near communities.
“The new rules will apply to all projects,” said ministry spokeswoman Kate Jordan.
A citizens’ watchdog group that raised alarm bells about the offshore project planned by Windstream Wolfe Island Shoals Inc. is pleased with the government’s proposal.
“What’s important is that they’re starting to listen,” said Mark Mattson, president of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper.
The group has been involved in gathering information on the 86-turbine project that began operating on Wolfe Island last year. Mattson said windpower hasn’t been subject to the same guidelines as other energy sources.
“This is our first real experience with privatized energy. We need strong oversight from the government to direct them,” he said.
Waterkeeper is also concerned with the number of wind turbine projects being proposed for the St. Lawrence corridor on both the Canadian and American sides.
Results of a recent scientific study on Wolfe Island showed considerable numbers of bats and birds being killed by turbines.
The offshore project proposed for the shoals to the west of Wolfe Island is being headed up by Ian Baines, who laid the groundwork for the Wolfe Island project.
In an interview with theWhig-Standardthis spring, Baines suggested that turbines should be placed at least five km from shore.
“We are not planning on building them close to shore. My feeling is five kilometres would be close to shore,” he said.
Onshore and offshore wind turbines cannot exceed a noise level of 40 decibels. Noise travels more freely on water than on land.
The discussion paper for offshore turbines notes that “noise assessments may require an offshore project be located beyond the shoreline exclusion zone of five kilometres.”
Interested parties have 60 days to respond to the proposals.
Mattson said Lake Ontario Waterkeeper will be studying the ministry reports and offering comments.
Under Environment Minister John Gerretsen, MPP for the Kingston and the Islands, the provincial government is trying to wean the province off environmentally damaging coal energy plants.
“I get the sense Minister Gerretsen is concerned,” Mattson said of the newest turbine proposals. “They’re concerned they get it right or it will damage for years what Ontario is trying to do.”