Long Point Waterfowl is worried that the McGuinty government is flying blind when it comes to the development of wind power. The waterfowl study group has set aside $300,000 for a two-year probe of wind turbines and their potential impact on waterfowl in the lower Great Lakes. Long Point Waterfowl is undertaking the research to address gaps in its understanding.
Scott Petrie, executive director of Long Point Waterfowl, is disturbed that the province wants to steamroll dissent on green energy projects when the scientific record is silent on the question of migratory waterfowl and wind turbines.
“I find what the McGuinty government is doing is very scary,” Petrie said. “They don’t want anybody speaking out against turbine locations. I’m very concerned about the Green Energy Act. We’re just trying to provide direction and to help ensure that green energy is as green as green can be.”
Due to mounting public opposition to wind farms, the McGuinty government recently withdrew approval authority for green power installations from municipalities.
This is a concern for biologists because developers covet shoreline areas where wind power is constant. In the Long Point biosphere, these areas coincide with key waterfowl habitat. In the fall, as many as 200,000 waterfowl can gather at one time along the south shore of Long Point.
Petrie has praise for AIM PowerGen, the Toronto company that recently established 100 giant turbines near the Lake Erie shoreline in Elgin County and southwest Norfolk. Initial plans were to situate the turbines as close to the shoreline as possible.
However, AIM PowerGen moved its turbines inland on the advice of Long Point Waterfowl. If the company hadn’t, Petrie is sure waterfowl behaviour in the Long Point area would have changed significantly. As it stands, there is anecdotal evidence that the turbines are impacting waterfowl. To what extent remains to be determined.
Now that governments on both sides of the border have identified green energy as a priority, other wildlife groups are scrambling to understand the impact of wind turbines on birds and bats. A coalition of 30 scientists recently discussed the issue at a conference in Racine, Wisconsin.
“We see great potential in wind energy for addressing global climate change and reducing America’s reliance on fossil fuels,” Dr. Michael Fry of the American Bird Conservancy said in a news release. “It’s critical we act now to understand the interactions between wind energy installations and birds and bats.”
Long Point Waterfowl will study the Great Lakes from the St. Lawrence River to Lake St. Clair because several proposals for wind farms in this zone have come forward in recent months. Petrie suspects there will be more.
“We’re certainly not anti-turbine,” he said. “We would just like to see them put in their proper place.”
By Monte Sonnenberg