by Keith Stelling, Owen Sound Sun Times
Joshua Wise of Ontario Nature (Put wind farms in the right places, Oct. 1) has rightly pointed out the horrific bird kills, including those already experiencing population declines, caused by industrial wind turbines on Wolfe Island where the McGuinty government allowed them to be placed with Ministry of the Environment approval. The Green Energy Act disabled much of the environmental legislation that would otherwise have restricted the siting of renewable energy projects. An essential flaw in the regulations is the “fast tracking” provision for environmental assessments which allows the proponents to submit their own environmental screening report by hiring an accommodating consultant.
Many questions have been raised by biologists as to the scientific rigour of these reports which are routinely rubber stamped by the ministries.
Almost all post operational studies of wildlife mortalities from wind turbines in Ontario have been kept secret from the public, allowing government and industry to contend that wind turbines kill very few birds. Until we have public access to independent mortality studies, we will not know the full cumulative impact.
The damage to the environment, however, goes well beyond the slice and dice effect of the turbine blades. International biologists are observing habitat fragmentation, disturbance and disruption near turbines. Reduced bird and bat abundance at wind turbine sites becomes more pronounced with time. Disruption of ecological links and animal movement corridors results in habitat abandonment. The loss of population vigour and overall density resulting from reduced survival or reduced breeding productivity is a particular concern for declining populations. Major studies include Everaert & Kuijken (2007), Kingsley & Whittam, (2005), Stewart, Pullin, & Coles (2006), Manville (2005), Kunz et al (2007), among many others.
The industry continues to claim that it avoids placing turbines near sensitive habitats. However, Wolfe Island is not unique. Far too many projects have been constructed, approved or proposed near critical ecosystems which support threatened species, provincially significant Areas of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSIs) and provincially significant wetlands — e.g. Ostrander Point, Arran Lake, Point Pelee National Park and coastal wetlands associated with Lake St. Clair among them. With its inadequate regulations and guidelines governing the siting of renewable energy installations this flawed act is urgently in need of revision.
Mr. Wise says “those who say no to wind mustn’t forget that they are saying yes to other, potentially more harmful forms of energy”. He warns that risks to wildlife are much less from wind than from coal, gas, oil etc. Did his research overlook the link between wind and coal in Germany and wind and gas in Ontario?
European experience has demonstrated that coal plants cannot be closed in exchange for non-base load wind energy. Electricity generation professionals have pointed out the practical complications of adding intermittent and unpredictable wind energy to the grid. Stability can only be maintained by running polluting fossil-fuelled plants inefficiently on standby to back up all potential wind production. That is why Germany, which has installed over 20,000 industrial wind turbines, has increased CO2 and other GHG emissions and new coal plants have had to be built to compensate for the destabilizing effect of wind energy. Ontario is building more gas plants for this same reason.
The Irish Electricity Supply Board (ESB) National Grid study of installed wind power in Ireland (2004) concluded: “The evidence shows that as the level of wind capacity increases, the CO2 emissions actually increase as a direct result of having to cope with the variation of wind-power output”. Similar reports corroborating this conclusion include the Tallinn Technical University study (2003), the Rhine-Westphalia Institute for Economic Research study (2009), and the Bentek study (2011). Bennet & McBee were the first to assess systematically the emission reduction performance of wind generation based on hourly generation and emissions data from Colorado and Texas. The Bentek study shows that previous claims were “significantly overstated and that actual CO2 reductions are either so small as to be insignificant or too expensive to be practical”.
Those who say yes to wind mustn’t forget that they are saying yes to other, potentially more harmful forms of energy. Ontario Nature’s feeble plea to “keep the green in green energy by putting wind farms in the right place” overlooks the obstinate fact that a renewable energy source which requires fossil fuel as a backup is hardly green in the first place.
Keith Stelling, Southampton