“It shouldn’t have been placed there,” ~ Ted Cheskey, Manager of Nature Canada Bird Conservation Program
Posted By Nick Gardner, QMI Agency Kingston Whig Standard
Alarming bird and bat mortality rates at the Wolfe Island wind farm have an international group calling for a three-year moratorium on wind energy projects on the Upper St. Lawrence River and east end of Lake Ontario.
Save The River vice-president Stephanie Weiss said the 86-windmill farm has caused the death of 688 birds and bats, equalling eight per windmill (over 6 months).
That’s far higher than the estimated two to four deaths for each windmill projected over a 12-month period and sends up a “red flag” to the organization, said Weiss. “This is much higher than the average, but nobody is ready to draw conclusions.”
She said Save The River supports renewable energy development, including wind power, but it wants to see a comprehensive study about the cumulative effects on birds and bats from proposed wind farms on both sides of the border.
“It is a cause for concern, not as much for the existing 86 windmills but for the additional windmills proposed for the area,” Weiss said.
“The wind farm projects are assessed individually, but nobody is looking at what would happen if you have 400 to 1,000 more windmills all over the lake and St. Lawrence River.”
Weiss said several projects proposed on the U.S. and Canadian sides of the border should be studied for their collective threat to birds and bats.
In the U.S., projects are proposed “from Cape Vincent to Hammond,” while Canadian proposals have been lined up at Amherst Island, Prince Edward County and Middle Duck Island, she said.
“Our petition (for a moratorium) is largely based on the initial indications coming out of the (Wolfe Island) data and also on the increase in scale (of the new projects),” she said. “Just because (pursuing renewable energy) is the right thing to do, it still needs to be done right.”
Weiss said cross-border issues need special scrutiny. For instance, the Indiana Bat is considered an endangered species in the United States but not in Canada, she said, yet the bat flies on both sides of the border and is common both near the proposed Cape Vincent wind farm as well as on Wolfe Island, where it is offered no protection as a threatened species, she said.
The group’s call for a moratorium finds support from Nature Canada bird conservation program manager Ted Cheskey.
“We’re supportive of wind energy, but we don’t believe it should be done at the risk of biodiversity,” Cheskey said, adding appropriate planning is needed to ensure wind farms are established where there is adequate wind but outside of traditional bird and bat migration areas.
Wolfe Island, with its barren features and scrub growth, is particularly attractive for migrating birds, said Cheskey, who laments the decision to establish a wind farm there.
“It shouldn’t have been placed there,” he said.
Cheskey said he was most alarmed about data from Wolfe Island indicating 28 tree swallows were among the casualties during the first six months of the wind farm’s operation.
“The population is already in decline,” he said, noting further reductions will likely affect populations downriver through the Thousand Islands and toward Brockville, where the bird’s food sources are common.
Other bird species killed by the windmills include turkey vultures (six), purple martins (seven) and bobolinks (eight) as well as several unidentified birds, he said.
Meanwhile, fledgling windmill technician and technologist programs at St. Lawrence College aren’t likely to be affected even if a moratorium is initiated, said Gord MacDougall, vice-president of student services and external affairs.
The programs, introduced two years ago as part of a focus on renewable energy trades, are needed to meet the requirements of a growing industry in Ontario, said MacDougall.
“I think the interest in the programs will remain high because the sustainability focus will remain high in Canada and through out the world, for that matter,” he said.