Windy issue

Posted by on December 6, 2011 at 11:21 pm.

Navigating the murky politics behind wind energy: not for the birds

Power is a necessary part of the life we know. From our homes and vehicles to our offices, construction sites and manufacturing plants, everything needs power. But everything also comes at a price.

Right now that price is too high. Oil and fossil fuels are harmful from extraction through to use and disposal. Well known, internationally recognized environmental activists have been warning us for years of the long-term damage we’re doing to our planet by using these forms of power.

Wind and solar power are presented as alternative sources of electricity generation. The sun and wind don’t require us to scar the earth with mines, split the ocean floor with rigs and risk disasters like last year’s oil spill in the gulf of Mexico.

Everything comes at a price.

Prince Edward County is a windy place, right in the centre of one of the world’s largest lakes. It has been identified as a prime place to harvest wind energy. Perfect. Right?

Not so much. As it turns out, human beings are not the only species to use wind energy. Birds thought about it long before we did. For millennia migratory birds have been using the wind of the great lakes.

In fact Ostrander point, along with much of the south shore of the County, has been labelled an IBA; an important bird area.

Last Tuesday Gilead Power put together an information session about a planned industrial wind park at Ostrander point.

The presentation at the South Marysburgh central school in Milford was visited by wind power opponents concerned about human health effects. Dozens of residents stood outside of the school, holding signs and chanting “no turbines on Ostrander!”

Still another voice was heard: what about the birds?

Beth Harrington is an old hand at following wind power. She is the media relations coordinator for Wind Concerns Ontario, a group that opposes industrial wind turbines.

“The government is going through the process of potentially approving a project that would do so much harm to the environment,” says Harrington. “It would completely neutralize the impact of any benefits whatsoever that industrial wind turbines may provide.”

Harrington isn’t alone in protesting the environmental effects.

In November 2010 Mara Kerry, director of conservation for Nature Canada and Anne Bell, senior director of conservation and education for Ontario Nature, co-penned a letter to Gilead Power.

“Our organizations are strong supporters of the Ontario Government’s effort to rapidly deploy wind energy,” wrote Kerry and Bell.“However, we strongly oppose the development of the Ostrander Point Wind Energy Park at this location, inside the globally significant Prince Edward County South Shore Important Bird Area.”

The letter goes on to cite at-risk species of birds that would suffer from the construction. It also discussed inadequacies in the methods used by the environmental research company to find out what birds fly though the area.

Paul Pede, president of Gilead Power, feels the company has made enough concessions to be able to proceed safely with the project.

“We’ve done four years of just specific avian studies,” says Pede. “Our studies suggest that any impact would be minimal. It’s expected that there can be bird impacts or mortalities from different birds.”

In response to the concerns from Nature Canada and Ontario Nature, Pede says that Gilead’s studies “certainly indicate that this project is still a very vibrant project that takes into consideration those types of issues.”

Wind power has been a hot topic internationally for over a decade, with powerhouse proponents like Al Gore and David Suzuki arguing that the damage caused by wind turbines is minor compared to the devastation of oil and coal power.

Opposition to wind power, especially in Ontario, has grown since Ontario’s Green Energy Act was legislated in 2009. It is the McGuinty Liberals’ attempt at becoming a leader in renewable energy. But activists argue that the Act lowers and eliminates public safeguards put in place specifically to protect the environment and safeguard human health.

To a newcomer, navigating the issue is exhausting. There is very little middle ground.

To those who support it, these turbines are taking us one step away from environmental Armageddon. To those who dispute it, these turbines are damaging our wildlife, our sleeping patterns and our landscapes.

To Gilead, these turbines are a good business decision.

What price are we willing to pay?

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