By Carol Martin, SooToday.com
Kevin O’Donovan, a principal in DP Energy, was in the hot seat. But he was cool about it.
DP Energy wants to develop the Bow Lake project, a 60-megawatt wind energy development for the Goulais Bay area. “We’ve gotten some very good and supportive comments,” O’Donovan said.
There were 170 to 180 people at an open house earlier this month in Goulais, and the 350 or so people at a similar event in Sault Ste. Marie. O’Donovan said he believed a lot of the people who attended had issues with the project but much of that was because of incorrect information they had received.
He said the open houses were a good opportunity to correct that information.
The two open houses were part of the renewable energy approvals process for DP Energy’s 20-megawatt first phase of the two-phase proposed project to be located in the area around Bow Lake.
“Have you done a survey of area tourist camp operators to see what possible effects this development could have on the local tourism industry?” asked Al Errington, past president of the Northern Ontario Tourist Outfitters Association.
“Well, I would assume we have but I would have to go and check that out,” said O’Donovan.
“No, you haven’t,” Errington countered. “I would know. If anyone would know, it would be me.”
“And you are?” asked O’Donovan as he extended his hand.
Errington introduced himself as a remote tourist lodge operator (Errington’s Wilderness Island Resort) located about half-way between the north shore of Lake Superior and the James Bay coast.
The Erringtons offer a wilderness experience free of any industrialization and people travel from all over the world to partake of it.
For him, it comes down to the question” What can we get from this wind farm?”
“Nothing,” Errington responded to his own question. “Northern Ontario is already an exporter of power.”
What’s worse is, if the project goes forward, tax dollars from the people of Northern Ontario are going to subsidize a project Errington says many of us don’t want and no one needs.
He said the project could potentially cost tourism jobs and won’t create many long-term jobs.
All it would do is put plenty of money in the pockets of DP Energy owners.
“Our development would not impact your access to the lodge in any way,” said O’Donovan. “We won’t be closing any existing access roads.”
The view of the wind towers from the highway, the rail line and the lake would be minimal in most areas, he said, and much of the proposed development will be on Crown lands and DP Energy will be leasing those lands.
A series of photographic mock-ups of the actual area landscapes with the proposed towers superimposed on them was on display at the open house.
In some, particularly the inland view at Montreal River hill, a few towers were clearly visible.
But in most of the images, the towers were small and barely visible.
When asked whether DP Energy considered the cumulative impact of its Bow Lake project when combined with the Prince Township project, O’Donovan said the Prince development is too far away to be considered as part of the cumulative effect from the Bow Lake project.
“When the next company comes in, if one does, then you’ll probably want to talk to them about the cumulative effect of their project when combined with ours,” he said. “As far as we’re concerned there were and still are very compelling reasons to want to locate our project here.”
O’Donovan said access to existing high-voltage power lines, the relative low density of residences and cottages, access to existing roads from past logging operations and the presence of good, consistent winds were the primary factors in the decision to locate its project at Bow Lake.
“We have walked away from possible projects in the past,” he said. “Some had too many people around them, others not enough wind, or too many sensitive environmental factors.”
But in this case, he feels the company has demonstrated a high level of willingness to assess and mitigate environmental issues.
He also didn’t believe the Bow Lake project would have a significant negative impact on the tourism industry.
“We have them in Ireland and plenty of people still come,” he said.
Meanwhile in the next room, Bob Moore, a resident of Batchawana Bay and a former high school teacher, was telling people what he found out about the studies MK Ince and Associates Limited did for DP Energy.
Moore’s area of specialty since retiring from teaching is birds and bird habitats, so he limited his comments to the avian impact assessment part of the report.
Both from personal observation and from study, he’s noted that a lot of songbirds and waterfowl migrate at night.
Moore said the MK Ince study didn’t do any auditory night surveys for migratory birds and the owl studies they did wouldn’t have picked them up so it didn’t find any.
He hears them at night sometimes and worries that those birds will die on the blades of wind towers if the Bow Lake development goes ahead.
The species he’s most concerned about is the peregrine falcon.
Three of them were counted in the MK Ince study and that represents four percent of the total Ontario population, which is seriously endangered.
If those birds were lost it would mean a significant negative impact on the peregrine falcon’s genetic diversity and ability to survive the other challenges it faces in Ontario.
Moore has spent a lot of time finding out all he can about the birds he shares his home territory with and is well known in the area for his expertise.
Ontario’s renewable energy approvals process recommends that companies poll local people for anecdotal information on flora and fauna species and habits.
But MK Ince and DP Energy never came to him.
“They never came and asked me what I’ve seen,” he said. “That’s supposed to be part of the study. They’re supposed to survey residents for their knowledge of the area.”
Maybe they asked other people but Moore said he hasn’t found any of them.
DP Energy’s website says MK Ince used a document titled Wind Turbine and Birds: A Guidance Document for Environmental Assessment (July 2006) to establish the methods and parameters of its studies and assessment documents.
The MK Ince avian impact assessment is based on findings from a review of historical information sources and on field surveys conducted in 2007 and 2008.
It provides a risk assessment for birds occupying the project area.
The study fully followed the guidelines laid out by the 2006 document, which was current at the time of the study said Thomas Bernacki, MK Ince project manager for the first Bow Lake Renewable Energy Approvals document.
Bernacki said there were several species of bird (including peregrine falcons, bald eagles and other raptors) and a colony of bats discovered in the area proposed for development.
As a result MK Ince made several mitigation recommendations to DP Energy and the company incorporated those into its designs – sometimes even exceeding minimum standards to assure the least possible harm to the environment.
But Moore felt the study was essentially flawed because researchers didn’t spend enough time in the field or move around enough to accurately survey bird populations.
Moore worries that the surveys are too flawed to yield accurate and reliable data.
The study needs to have impartial, third-party peer review before it should be accepted by the Ontario government, Moore said.
It’s entirely possible the study has underestimated the environmental and social significance of the site, he said.
While his comments are limited to the bird study, he says, there there are more than 20 other studies on the DP Energy site as well.
If the bird study methods are significantly flawed, how reliable can the other studies be?
Together, these studies form DP Energy’s submission to the Ontario government for renewable energy approvals.
The government may comment on it and send it back for more work, approve it or reject it.
If DP Energy is granted a renewable energy approval on the first phase of its Bow Lake project, it will then qualify for Ontario government feed-in tariff funding and be able to go ahead with that phase of the project.
As for the approximately 25-square-kilometre Bow Lake project, O’Donovan said, DP Energy has been in the area investigating the site, conducting surveys and doing impact assessments since late 2006 or early 2007.
The full results of those surveys and assessments, including possible impacts on bird, bat, moose, fish, plant and other native flora and fauna can be viewed at the DP Energy website for Bow Lake.
The total number of wind towers that will be put up on the land around Bow Lake will likely be around 36 but it is hard to pin down right now, said O’Donovan.
DP Energy has not yet decided whether it will use 1, 2, 2.5 or 3 MW capacity generators or how many of each it will use.
In the first phase of the project DP Energy plans to erect up to 12 turbines, said O’Donovan.
The next DP Energy open house, dealing with the second phase of the project, will be held on Thursday, April 28 at Algoma’s Water Tower Inn in Sault Ste. Marie from 5 to 8 p.m.