Wolfe Island wind plant still harming birds in Important Bird Area

A dead white-tailed eagle killed in the Smøla wind-farm, off the Norwegian coast. Photo Espen Lie Dahl.

by Ted Cheskey Nature Canada

Last May, I blogged about a report that described how birds and bats have been affected by the TransAlta wind plant on Wolfe Island, a globally significant Important Bird Area in southern Ontario known for its waterfowl, raptors and swallows. I called the numbers of birds and bats being killed by TransAlta’s turbines “shockingly high,” indeed the highest recorded in Canada and one of the highest in North America.

However, since the report only studied a six month period, TransAlta’s spokespeople argued that it was premature to reach conclusions so soon, especially when comparing the Wolfe Island deaths to yearly casualty rates for other wind plants. Besides, TransAlta reasoned, the results appeared to be within the thresholds of acceptable limits set by provincial and federal government regulators.

Then last month, Stantec Consulting, the firm that produced the original report, released its report on the second half of the year: January 1, 2010 to July 1, 2010. And the results for birds are troubling. (I’ll write about bats in a future post.) Though casualty numbers for birds did not skyrocket in the second sixth month period, a time that included the spring migration, they still were high enough to make the Wolfe Island wind plant the most deadly for birds in Canada.

The 13.4 birds per turbine casualty rate is about 7 times the industry average in Canada according to Canadian Wind Energy Association (CANWEA) but below the so-called “adaptive management” threshold for TransAlta facility, as set by various government agencies. That level is 11.7 birds per MW which translates to 21 birds per turbine, which just happens to be the highest level ever recorded at any wind facility in North America (Buffalo Mountain, Tennessee). Using the highest level recorded as the threshold before which any mitigation is even considered seems a bit dubious to say the least.

Estimated and actual numbers of birds killed, proportioned by the species actually found, over the entire 12 month period, paints a disturbing picture:
Tree Swallow 218 (calculation based on 31 corpses)
Purple Martin 49 (calculation based on 7 corpses)
Bobolink 73 (calculation based on 9 corpses)
Wilson’s Snipe 50 (calculation based on 7 corpses)
Red-tailed Hawk 10 (actual count)

It is important to note that the calculated numbers are arrived at using Stantec’s formula to calculate total casualty rates. A sample of turbines are visited either weekly or twice a week and a search for bird corpses on the ground beneath the blades is conducted. As the method is not intended as a comprehensive search, determining the casualty rate requires taking in factors like the ability of the search team to find carcasses, the percentage of the area searched and the rate of predation between searches. The 31 Tree Swallow corpses, in other words, represent about 15% of the calculated number of tree swallows killed, based on Stantec’s calculations and field testing.

While the report and the research behind it appear to be quite solid, the authors contend that the casualty rates are quite sustainable and will not have any effect on the species populations. They do this by contrasting the kill numbers from the turbines with the estimated Ontario population of the most affected species – Tree Swallow, numbering about 400,000 and Bobolink, about 800,000. (They do not do this for Red-tailed Hawk, which in fact may not meet their sustainability criteria). They also contrasted the numbers with estimates of birds killed by other human activities or artifices such as tall buildings, vehicles, cell towers, and pets.

While this argument has gained considerable traction among some in the wind industry and even the scientific community, it fails to consider that the turbines at Wolfe Island are killing different species than the tall buildings, cats and cars. Tree Swallow, Purple Martin, Red-tailed Hawk, Turkey Vulture and Bobolink rarely if ever show up on lists of casualties from tall buildings, and are unlikely victims of cats, with the possible exception of the Bobolink. And vehicle collisions, well – while this is a legitimate concern, Turkey Vultures have arguably had a net benefit from the carnage caused by vehicles.

But it is some of these very species – the ones most likely to be harmed by Wolfe Island’s turbines – that are already experiencing declines.

Take swallows, for example. Most species of swallow have declined significantly in Canada over the past 20 years. Adding additional threats to already stressed populations is not prudent. According to trend data on this species from Breeding Bird Survey routes in Ontario, the Tree Swallow has declined by about 6% annually over the past 20 years, a cumulative decline of almost 80%! In other words, the current estimated population of 400,000, was 2 million only 20 years ago. Bobolink, recently added to COSEWIC’s list of threatened species, declined 4.1% over the same period. We should not trivialize the impact of removing dozens, or hundreds of individuals from a population of species that are clearly in trouble.

In the meantime, good documentation of the impacts is essential. While TransAlta had to deliver these studies – they were a condition of the wind project’s approval – the company and Stantec should be recognized for doing good work. Once one takes the spin out of the document, the data and the methodologies are solid. The quality of the monitoring appears to be high, and some weaknesses, such as a potential bias to undercount the number of raptor fatalities, are recognized in the report.

With regard to birds of prey, even if they were not undercounted, the number of casualties is excessively high at .27 per turbine. This was the highest recorded rate for raptor kills outside of California. The victims included:

10 Red-tailed Hawks,
1 Northern Harrier,
1 Osprey,
2 American Kestrel,
1 Merlin
8 Turkey Vulture

This number crossed the “notification threshold” for the project, meaning that the CWS and MNR were notified about the high rates. The report states that TransAlta and MNR have initiated discussions regarding “adaptive management” in response to the raptor deaths. We look forward to hearing what the response might be.

With the plant already in operation, the only option now is to mitigate the risk to wildlife perhaps by slowing down the blades of the turbines at hazardous moments of the year, or turning them off. However, unless the numbers of casualties increase even further in the next two years, it is unclear how far the threshold must be exceeded and how often, before mitigation is implemented. It is reported in the document that four notifications were made by the company to the government for raptors alone, yet none appears to have led to mitigation.

As I write this, several wind farms are being proposed around the eastern end of Lake Ontario, the most worrying being Gilead’s Ostrander Point wind farm. Ostrander Point is an area that is arguably even more significant for birds than Wolfe Island, because of its specific geography. Ironically, the land on which the Gilead project is being proposed is owned by the Province of Ontario – a Crown forest block. Opposition to turbines in agricultural areas appears to have persuaded government officials to meet their renewable energy agenda by prioritizing “crown lands” as locations for wind energy plants. While this might be appropriate and acceptable for some properties, when a wind plant is located in an area of great significance to wildlife, as is the case with Ostrander Point, so-called green energy ceases to be green at all. The Ontario government needs to think more carefully about where they allow wind turbines. It is not too late for the Province to design a policy that promotes green energy and also protects key biodiversity sites including Important Bird Areas. Otherwise, as more of these facilities are built in bad places, wind energy will become a significant contributor to the declines of several species that are already in trouble, and the Green Energy Act will be recognized and remembered for all of the wrong reasons.

35 thoughts on “Wolfe Island wind plant still harming birds in Important Bird Area

  1. The Wind crazies are not worried about the “acceptable” loss of wildlife when they talk Wind Turbines. Eventually the numbers will come down to zero because there won’t be anymore birds left to kill!

    They take that same position with humans and their loss of homes and lands! An “acceptable loss” is warranted when they are trying to “save the planet” with “new clean and green energy sources”.

    These eco nuts actually believe this crap! Listen to Kris Stevens form OSEA and he is “obsessed” with this glorious energy generation as being the next best thing to sliced bread. At any costs!….”just give it time and it will prove itself”……..RIGHT!

    Suzuki is their poster boy for this crazy idealistic slop and de-population is always on their minds!

    We are dealing with some very ill people here folks and simple cries for help and/or scientific based decision making is falling on “deaf ears”

  2. “”However, unless the numbers of casualties increase even further in the next two years, it is unclear how far the threshold must be exceeded and how often, before mitigation is implemented””

    They are not going to fix the bird problem, we are just going to run out of birds.

  3. If one can not grasp from these photos, exactly what wind turbines do to flying wildlife then they belong to a group of people world wide, who thinks their S__T does not stink. These are the type of people that can be linked to all the ills of the world past and present, they are people, who only think about themselves.

    Man does not have the right to choose and or dictate what wildlife gets to stay and what doesn’t. Canadian wildlife protection laws were put in place for the sole purpose of protecting Canadian wildlife from the avails of man’s activities. All species on this planet have to live together in harmony in order for the world to survive and until such time, as man can realize this, then the planet will subsist.

    Why aren’t our wildlife protection laws being enforced, is the question that has to be asked? Further, why aren’t the environmentalists and environmental groups seeking these answers as well? Ask any politician two simple questions, why the enactment of wildlife protection laws and for what purpose does this legislation serve? His/her worth as politician would be conveyed, with an answer that affords flying wildlife the right to life and suitable habitation, there is no excuse for anything less, especially in this day and age.

    What has taken place on Wolfe Island is inexcusable, as well, as what is taking place on every other wind farm that is operating in Canada presently and the “BEST” that “Nature Canada” has to say “the only option now is to mitigate the risk to wildlife perhaps by slowing down the blades of the turbines at hazardous moments of the year, or turning them off”. It’s totally obvious in saying this, Nature Canada does not have a clue of what they putting across, however it does sound good to those, whose knowledge of wind turbines has only been subjected to hearsay.

    Until such time is this group and or other environmental groups start to advocate no wind turbines in Canada period, then as a nature group(s) they are actually condoning the use of wind turbines, just look at these photos, why is this being allowed to take place and why are these groups just sitting back?

  4. The number of casualties also fails to take into account how many corpses have been carried away/eaten by wild predators. There is no way that visiting a site once a week gives an accurate study of bird death rates.

    The number is WAY higher than these reports……

  5. Kind of makes anyone who claims to be a “GAIA” worshiper, a “BLOODY HYPOCRITE” doesn’t it?

  6. Much of the city bird population,at least in winter,is made up of sparrows and pigeons that don’t migrate and have very high reproductive rates. Thus not in danger of becoming extinct. City birds ,like pigeons, don’t live in wind turbine areas.

    These city birds live in high vehicle traffic areas so more likely to be killed by motor vehicles. A great many migratory bird species live in rural areas and not so likely to be killed by motor vehicles but do migrate through wind turbine areas and live in wind turbine areas.

    So a false picture of bird mortality is presented by proponents of wind turbines. In rural areas other bird predators besides cats are present and do kill birds for food but this is only nature at work.

  7. “With the plant already in operation, the only option now is to mitigate the risk to wildlife perhaps by slowing down the blades of the turbines at hazardous moments of the year, or turning them off.”
    That is a warning to all people and animals. Once up, they don’t care who they affect.
    These is some sickening truths about Industrial Wind Turbines.

  8. “Ironically, the land on which the Gilead project is being proposed is owned by the Province of Ontario – a Crown forest block. Opposition to turbines in agricultural areas appears to have persuaded government officials to meet their renewable energy agenda by prioritizing “crown lands” as locations for wind energy plants. While this might be appropriate and acceptable for some properties, when a wind plant is located in an area of great significance to wildlife, as is the case with Ostrander Point, so-called green energy ceases to be green at all.”
    Lets get real, and say this technology doesn’t deserve to be anywhere. It’s crap and dangerous.

  9. The only way this issue is going to be addressed is to take the offenders to court, in the same manner that Suncor was challenged in Alberta. Until we find the dollars to hire the lawyers, the industry and government will simply ignore the situation.

  10. Ted, you useless bugger. I was on my hands and knees begging Nature Canada to do something about these monstrous turbines several years ago and guess what? You folks couldn’t be bothered to even write a one-sentence notice of concern about 119 of the twirlers going up offshore in Lake Erie right next to Point Pelee National Park, Canada’s premier migration hotspot. Too little, too late, Teddy.

    If Nature Canada, Ontario Nature, CPAWS and other ENGOs had worked together on this issue back then, it would have been stopped in its tracks until necessary economic and environmental reviews had been conducted.

    I no longer support a long list of ENGOs including Nature Canada due to their inaction.

  11. I had no idea how many NGO’s were supported by my tax dollars until I started to following the links others have posted here. It makes one sick the amount of people telling us that we’re bad and the whole time bleeding us dry.

  12. NSG – I agree. For Tom to come in after the damage is done seems pretty worthless. In most lines of business hindsight doesn’t command much of a salary. And with Amherst Island – which is roughly twice as rich in raptors as Wolfe – now on the chopping block what is Tom going to say? Where are the birds going to go? PEC? Sorry, that’ll be covered with turbines too.

  13. Ted said: (that the authors said)

    the casualty rates are quite sustainable

    Everyone is too worried… smile be happy — it’s (ready for this?) — sustainable….

    sus-tain-a-ble (phonetically ) just say it ssssslllloooowwwwlllyyyyy!

    It’s all OK — the ECO-GURUS have spoken… Don’t worry. Be Happy!

    Aren’t the guys at STAN-TEC Eco-Gurus??? Doesn’t that mean that everything is OK?

    SPLAT!

    what was that?

  14. Ted, congrats on getting at least half of your head out of the sand … however, you still sound like you’re trying to cover half of your butt. When are these Nature Groups going to come clean …

    Just sent off a donation to Kent Breeze in lieu of our usual contributions to Ontario Nature, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and Nature Conservancy of Canada.

  15. Start suing the offenders, you will see how quickly they react.

    Some of that $2 billion Dave was offering to spend. Don’t try to fix the problems, just sue their pants off 🙂

    Or wait until the Hanna suit explodes in their faces and actions for past damages start to pile up.

  16. Bravo Notsogullible. I am sure the thousands of viewers that frequent this web site will follow suit! They will have to fight very hard to gain back trust.

  17. Margaret:

    Ontario Nature’s Action Alerts are directed to their members, which amounts to “preaching to the converted”. ON quietly sends their EBRs to the government where they are ignored and thrown in File 13. Maybe I missed it, but I’ve never seen or heard any meaningful condemnation of Industrial Wind Turbines in mainstream press (newspapers) or on TV or radio by the not so perturbed Ontario Nature.

  18. Confused: I thought the Nature Conservancy had stood up against wind in one area, but maybe that was in the U.S.
    As a person who has considered themself an envirnmentalist since the late 1960’s, I find myself at odds with many groups that I once supported. Once I found out the stand of the Sierra Club I dropped them and have dropped several other groups. I am unclear about the Nature Conservancy yet, but how we can allow the wind industry to do this to our (U.S. Europe, Canada, etc) land, people and wildlife I really don’t know.
    There is so much money in this industry and floating around; and people who don’t ask questions of this industry. I really believe it will take a long time for this international blight to stop. And, it won’t stop until governments stop providing funds that enable this problem.

  19. bette,

    The whole IWT scam won’t end until the money is cut off because money is the only reason IWTs are being installed anyway.

  20. Rule of Thumb:

    Anyone who says they support renewable energy without stipulating that it must be small-scale, locally appropriate and locally used is just saying that they don’t want their life or immediate interests affected but are willing to make others pay for it in their life and interests.

    Off-shore IWT placed “over-the -horizon” is still going to be creating noise-pollution and in marine ecosystems we already have studies which show that cetaceans’ habitat is being restricted by man-made sounds which deter or prevent them from using their natural range.

    The construction of IWT generate high noise disturbance while normal operation is moderately disturbing. Sound familiar? Those intelligent creatures are being tortured as surely as humans are.

  21. John, you are right, “take them to court” but they first have to be charged and this is where the difficulty lies. It’s seemingly more evident with the passing of each day that I have come to realize the numerous influences that this industry has fostered throughout Canada and how deep-rooted this influence is within Queens Park and the House of Commons.

    As an example on how involved an endeavor in this direction would take.

    The argument, we have both wildlife and environmental legislation that served purpose for many decades that is presently being ignored in support of wind turbines. Both the provincial and federal governments are purposely ignoring this legislation to suit their best interests and subsequently the interests of proponents who could not otherwise afford the cost of an environmental assessment.

    In the spring of last year I caught both the MNR and MOE office’s with their pants down regarding a Ryerson University’s wind power project proposal (WindTech Research and Development Facility) that an environmental impact assessment should be conducted prior to commencement due to the site location being located in the Grand River Watershed and the linear placement of six (6) Class 2 wind turbines at their site location as well.

    My argument is supported by Canada’s Constitution, The Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk 1996, Canada Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA), Species at Risk Act, the Endangered Species Act (ESA), Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, Environment Canada Canadian Wildlife Services bird/wind documents within the regulation itself that were developed for all wind power projects in Canada, are just to mention a few.

    On June 16 2009, Canadian Foundation for Innovation awarded project title Ryerson University’s WindTech Research and Development Facility: Expansion of the Laboratory for Electric Drive Application and Research (LEDAR) to Advance Wind Technology, Final Decision, was awarded a maximum (CFI) contribution of $ 729,771.00.

    http://www.innovation.ca/media/docs/2009_06_18_LEFNIF/Ontario.pdf

    Under the administration of CFI funds guidelines “Research involving possible adverse impacts on the environment” such “institutions must comply with all provincial, territorial and federal government regulations pertaining to environmental assessment. The federal regulations are outlined in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, Environmental assessment (EA) also known as environmental impact assessment (EIA).

    The Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals calls for strategic environmental assessments to be conducted for any policy, plan, or program proposal that is submitted to a Minister or to Cabinet for approval and that is likely to have important environmental effects, positive or negative. The Directive also establishes a criteria to help federal departments and agencies determine when such an assessment is appropriate and offers guidance on its preparation. The Directive requires SEAs to consider the environmental impact of proposals, whether positive or negative and to take the necessary steps to reduce adverse effects on the environment. The Directive provides clear guidance on the implementation of the new guidelines and on the consideration and evaluation of environmental impacts.

    As we all know to well, wind turbines kill flying wildlife, 2005 and 2006 government Environment Canada – Canadian Wildlife Service documents support this fact. Wind turbines will have infinite adverse effects on flying wildlife from commencement to decommissioning, the photos in this post cannot suggest otherwise, yet Ryerson University wind energy project was given nearly three quarters of a million dollars without having to abide by CFI guidelines and as well as having to conduct an EA/EIA as required by the government of Canada Environmental Assessment Act legislation.

    The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) is the legal basis for the federal Environmental Assessment (EA) process. The CEAA outlines the responsibilities, requirements and procedures for the Environmental Assessment of projects and establishes a process for assessing the potential environmental effects of projects in which the Government of Canada has a decision-making responsibility. All proponents should obtain a copy of the CEAA and related regulations from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency at http://www.ceaa.gc.ca.

    The Government of Canada uses an EA as a planning tool to identify, understand, assess and mitigate, where possible, the environmental effects of a project. Under the CEAA, federal departments and agencies Federal Authorities (FA) are required to undertake an EA for projects relating to a physical work and for any proposed physical activity listed in the Inclusion List Regulations of the CEAA, whenever, an FA;

    • proposes or undertakes a project;

    • grants money or any other form of financial assistance to a project;

    • grants an interest in the land to enable a project to be carried out; and

    • exercises a regulatory duty in relation to a project, such as issuing a permit or license that is included in the Law List Regulations of the CEEA.

    Both governments are and have been making legislative changes (back tracking) since 2006 to suit their purposes, which is to suit the best interests of proponents, why the change in venue, once upon a time it was a crime to arbitrarily kill Canada’s wildlife, now the government of Canada is deciding who gets to stay and who does not.

    Environmental groups need to get on board, there is a whole lot more information available to day, in government documents than there was four years ago that the these environmental groups can not dispute.

    Sorry for the lengthily post.

  22. Infrasound is so well known in biology why are the bird people so ignorant?

    http://geology.about.com/od/infrasonics/a/birdsound.htm

    They behave as though IWT only shred birds when they have several other ways of destroying the avian populations…including why wait for the climate to change when you can fragment and destroy habitat right away.

    Were not the Feds involved in Wolfe Island and responsible for the CEEA?

  23. Re:volt – the Feds did a screening, opting to essentially trust Ontario to do a good assessment. The details are at

    http://amherstislandwindinfo.com/wolfebirds.htm

    I don’t know if they regret that or not. We’ll likely find out as the Feds said they were expecting a full cumulative EA if any other eastern Lake Ontario projects (specifically mentioned was Amherst Island) were proposed. I’m not holding my breath for that either.

  24. Mr. Alias:
    Do you know if any of the wind projects that have been awarded contracts received federal funding? We are trying to determine, without much success, if the CEAA will apply to various wind projects. I seem to recall reading somewhere that the Feds may have given money to the Ontario government to back their FIT programme. If this is the case, then wouldn’t all projects require an environmental assessment under the CEAA?

  25. Thanks Wayne,

    That makes the whole sneaky windcarpet-baggery very clear!

  26. Millbrook Jane – my understanding (from memory, which may well be wrong, so please correct me if so) is that a project becomes eligible for a CEAA under 4 general conditions. One of the 4 is if federal money is going to the project. Until last year the feds were paying a 1 cent adder per kw-hr; thus the early projects were subject to the CEAA. I don’t know which projects got this money, except Wolfe Island, which did. Incidentally, another of the 4 is if there’s some federal licensing involved. I.E. laying cables on the lakebed in navigable waters, like almost anywhere in the Great Lakes.

    Note that the feds can opt for just a screening, like they did for Wolfe, essentially providing no additional check on the province, which in Ontario’s case is equivalent to providing no protection at all.

  27. Thanks…. yes, my understanding from dealing with a separate environmental issue, is that an Environmental Assessment under the CEAA has to be completed on any project that receives Federal funding. According to the CEAA, Schedule C projects which are deemed to have the potential for great environmental impact must satisfy all 5 phases of the CEAA planning process – Section A.2.7 of the Act. Screening applies only to Schedule B projects which I assume, from your reply, applied to Wolfe Island. Well, we know how well that has worked out. Just trying to find an angle to tie up these wind farm proponents.

  28. Millbrook Jane, I have an Excel file that feds sent to me when doing my reasearch, it maybe six month old or older, I will also check on an email address that you can obtain up-dated information from. Please give me a couple of days.

  29. It seems to me that whether in the US or Canada unless there is someone not connected with the wind company looking over their shoulders things are pushed through.
    The rather informal comment I received from someone was that they come to us; we tell them the problems (wildlife, etc) and they can follow or it appeared not. It was said a citizen group could take the wind company to court — It’s too bad there can’t be a class action lawsuit.
    The problem also with finding out about bird/bat kills is that unless an indepedent agency (not a university that has a “Renewable Energy Program” does the research I don’t think they’d be an accurate accounting.
    And, unless someone is connected with some specific research project — ordinary people can’t go on private lands to account for the kills.

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