By Jeff Helsdon, Tillsonburg News
On a real clear day, the mountains of Pennsylvania are the only thing besides water that can be seen when looking south over Lake Erie from Long Point’s beach.
That could change.
An offshore wind development of 500 to 800 turbines is in the early planning stages for the waters off Long Point according to Dr. Scott Petrie, executive director of Long Point Waterfowl. Another development is planned for the east side of Long Point, off Turkey Point. Among Petrie’s many concerns are the growing number of turbines could affect waterfowl.
Jolanta Kowalski, spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, confirmed there are 91 offshore wind projects applications in Lake Erie.
“An application is not equivalent to a project,” she said. “There can be more than one application per project.”
In the planning process for offshore wind developments, companies must go through a site release process. Only four – Southpoint, Vision Quest Electric, AIM PowerGen and Interwind – have completed the process.
Erie Wind Energy, a division of Wasatch Wind Ltd., has an application pending for a wind project in Lake Erie, which is one of the ones Petrie is concerned about. Company spokesperson Michelle Stevens said the size and exact location of the development are to be determined, although she said it would be “far from the shores of Lake Erie”.
“At this time we are still working with the Ministry of Natural Resources to determine whether the project will move forward,” she said.
Petrie’s concerns with wind turbines can be grouped in three areas: mortality, impact on migration and impact on foraging.
He was opposed to the original placement planned for the last group of wind turbines erected by International Power Canada (formerly AIM PowerGen), saying the turbines were planned for an area used for waterfowl foraging and migration. Petrie gave credit to project developers for addressing his concerns and modifying the location.
Now with the Green Energy Act, he doesn’t know if the same kind of consultation will take place.
Speaking to mortality, Petrie said it wasn’t a concern initially with onshore turbines. But, with offshore turbines and proposals to build onshore turbines near wetlands on Lake St. Clair, it’s a different story for waterfowl.
With so many turbines planned, Petrie is concerned it will be like a wall. With waterfowl and most bird species migrating at night, he fears there will be collisions with turbines.
“What are the birds going to do when they cross here (Long Point) and hit a wind farm,” he said. “They cross here because it’s narrower.”
He is also concerned in some locations the turbines will go up between resting areas and feeding areas. Recent aerial surveys completed by Long Point Waterfowl show waterfowl rest on the lake as far as 10 kilometres off shore.
“We are concerned with any wind turbines within four kilometers of shore, so the further out in the lake the better,” Petrie said.
Although offshore turbines are in use in Europe, Petrie said it is in salt water conditions. As far as he knows, the turbines proposed for the Great Lakes are the first fresh water applications in the world. That being the case, Petrie said the current research being done by the turbine companies is insufficient.
He said all monitoring of waterfowl related to offshore turbines is being done from boats or shore. Petrie said it should be done from shore. He maintains there was no use of historic data, little pre-construction monitoring and no consultation of where flyways were from local experts.
In addition, Petrie said nobody is looking at the cumulative effect of wind turbines on both the Canadian and American side of the lake as one big system
“How many turbines could we put on the Lower Great Lakes without having an effect on water birds,” he said.
He pointed to Danish radar research that showed birds avoided turbines. With there being limited habitat on the Great Lakes, he sees this as a problem.
Outside of concerns with waterfowl, there are also problems with songbird and bat mortality. Although he is not an expert, Petrie understands there are potential for fisheries issues from vibration and the current running through the water and aesthetic issues.
One bald eagle has already been found dead by a wind turbine, with the exact cause of death under investigation.
“We’ve sent hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring them (eagles) back,” Petrie said. “If we already have a problem and only a few wind turbines, imagine what happens when we are at full load.”
Petrie would like to see guidelines developed to protect migrating waterfowl and coastal wetlands. Guidelines on setbacks from wetlands for both onshore and offshore turbines and requirements for monitoring are requirements he wants. Petrie believes Ontario has an obligation under the North American Bird Treaty to protect waterfowl habitat.
While he didn’t think wind turbines would cause the extinction of any individual waterfowl species, it could have an impact on traditional movement patterns – which fuel tourism, bird watching and hunting – and access to prime habitat and food. Petrie also believes the present approval process could contravene the Species at Risk Act.
“You couldn’t get approval to build an office tower beside a coastal wetland, why would you put an industrial wind turbine beside one,” he said. “Especially since we lost 85% of our coastal wetlands, it’s critical we protect what’s left from human-induced impacts.”
Asked about what research would be done regarding birds, Stevens answered, “If the process moves forward, we will be conducting environmental, archaeological and cultural studies to ensure we are avoiding and mitigating any impacts and complying with all governmental and regulatory requirements.”