By Chris Vander Doelen, www.windsorstar.com
The people pushing industrial wind farms won’t be too happy once this gets out, but one of their machines killed a bald eagle in Ontario last summer.
The official cause of death: “Blunt force trauma,” according to Scott Petrie, a PhD waterfowl biologist who says he was “privy to the results” of the autopsy. “They’re trying to keep it hush-hush,” he says of government biologists.
Petrie says the bird was killed in the Erie Shores Wind Farm, a installation of 66 land-based turbines south of Tillsonburg, 10 kilometres from where he works as staff biologist with the non-profit education group, Long Point Waterfowl.
The wind farm, completed in 2006, is owned by the Macquarie Power and Infrastructure Income Fund and is one of Ontario’s largest, so far.
Petrie, 43, who is also an adjunct professor at the University of Western Ontario, doesn’t believe the death of one endangered bird means turbines should be banned — even though he calls the loss of the eagle “very significant. If I was an eagle biologist I’d be screaming from the rooftops.”
But he does think the casualty should convince the province and its swarm of eager wind farm developers to slow down their mad rush to remake the electrical grid.
He’d like some research done before thousands of wind towers form a barrier of whirling blades across the south end of the province.
Without some some sober second thought about wind farms, Petrie warns, Ontario might be committing the province’s ecosystem to cascading and unpredictable long term changes.
“I don’t want to sound like an alarmist … they won’t cause extinctions,” he says of wind farms. “But I think this is biggest threat to waterfowl in Ontario. And everybody’s in such a rush to put them up,” Petrie groused in an interview this week.
“Nobody is talking about the cumulative effects of these things. Nobody is talking about siting them properly. There are some places they should never be built — such as Lake St. Clair.”
Wind farms would be very destructive to the huge populations of waterfowl which feed and live offshore on that lake, Petrie says.
The big worry for Ontario’s valuable bird populations is “displacement of waterfowl from their key foraging and staging areas.”
North America’s migrating waterfowl have been flying the same routes for up to 13,000 years, back to when there was just one enormous lake of glacial meltwater feeding the St. Lawrence River: Lake Iroquois.
A few dozen turbines wouldn’t make much of a difference to the ancient feeding areas and flight paths. But with 1,500 turbines now proposed for Lake Erie on the Canadian side alone – and those are just the ones planned in the water — that could be more than enough machinery to frighten migratory birds out of their habits.
That’s what happened in Denmark after that country installed 25,000 turbines, Petrie says: A “barrier effect” caused by the forest of steel towers.
Even if the blades don’t kill many birds, wind farms spook the skittish species into moving away. What happens then to Ontario’s multibillion-dollar tourism and hunting industries?
People travel from around the world to see migratory phenomena such as the recent arrival of tens of thousands of huge tundra swans on the shore of Lake Erie along Highway 3. A thrilling sight, if you haven’t caught it yet.
As a scientist, Petrie doesn’t believe wind farms are a solution to any of our energy problems anyway. “And as a taxpayer I’m totally opposed to wind turbines because they’re subsidized. Without subsidies there would be no wind turbines.
“You know we will never shut down a single fossil fuel plant due to wind turbines. Never.” Denmark hasn’t shut any of its fossil-fuel generators despite almost carpeting the country with wind turbines — and doubling the cost of their electricity.
The trick will be convincing the McGuinty government to budge from any of its stubborn beliefs about climate change, and its hell-bent-for-leather plans to convert the province to wind and solar power.
Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, MPP for Windsor-Tecumseh, tried to soothe local opposition to wind farms last week by saying “nothing’s been approved yet … but we need to get to 20 per cent on our renewables.”
Why 20 per cent? Global warming — another theory Petrie, like many of us, thinks is more political than scientific.
Sadly, it’s going to take a lot more than one dead bird to change the Liberals’ strangely fixed environmental views. They’ve made a crackpot theory a provincial religion, while plugging their ears to the real worries.