By Connor Lynch
BRINSTON — The oft-contentious, partially-constructed Nation Rise Wind Project in North Stormont, north of Winchester, was suddenly cancelled by the province last month to protect bats.
Environment Minister Jeff Yurek announced in a letter sent to local opposition group Concerned Citizens of North Stormont in early December that the wind turbine project was cancelled. The 29-turbine project was partially completed. Six turbines were fully built and a dozen more were partially constructed. Parts were being trucked to the site from the Port of Johnstown starting in October.
Yurek pointed to an unquantified risk to bat populations in the area as the reason for his decision. EDP (Energias de Portugal) Renewables, which owns the project, had surveyed bat populations in the area in advance of the project.
Yurek’s decision was reminiscent of former ag minister Jeff Leal’s invocation of the precautionary principle against neonics. Said Yurek: “I choose to exercise precaution in determining the seriousness of this harm and whether it will be irreversible. In my view, the harm will be both serious and irreversible to animal life, given the relatively small bat species populations in the area.”
Yurek explained that his decision to quash the project was limited to the risk to human health or the environment because he was overruling the project’s approval by an Environmental Review Tribunal.
Until now, the Progressive Conservatives have argued that renewable energies like wind and solar are unnecessary money losers and Ontario already produces a surplus of electricity.
Margaret Benke, one of the leading voices of the local opposition group, said the group was surprised but very pleased.
EDP Renewables, the company that built the wind turbine project, didn’t take the news lying down. In a statement it argued that the province’s decision “contradicts scientific and expert findings and appears to exceed the minister’s legal jurisdiction under the Environmental Protection Act.”
EDP Renewables added that while it is “wholly perplexed by this unfounded decision on the part of the minister, it is prepared to pursue all legal courses of action . . . to resume the construction activities at Nation Rise Wind Farm.”
On Dec. 10, EDP Renewables filed an application for judicial review, asking the courts to review the decision to determine its legality.
Opposition to the project has been well-publicized. Cash crop farmers Arnie and Marion Hakvoort, who have one of the project’s wind turbines on their farm, said they have no objection to the objections. “Everything has its pros and cons,” Arnie Hakvoort said.
But with the project set to begin operation in February, this 11th hour reversal was hard to swallow. “It’s 80 per cent complete,” Hakvoort said. “To cancel it at this stage doesn’t make any sense at all.”
He added: “If this stays cancelled, there’s contracts where it has to be torn out and dismantled. The taxpayer will pay for that, with nothing to show for it.”
The Progressive Conservative government cancelled 758 renewable energy projects last year that had yet to receive final clearance from the Independent Energy System Operator (IESO), arguing that it would save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in inflated hydro bills.
The North Stormont wind project received approval from the IESO just days before the provincial election, which some criticized as a breach of a government tradition not to make major decisions or announcements on the eve of an election.
Provincial Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk has agree to look into the cancellation costs.
Winchester-area wind project cancelled because of bats?
By Connor Lynch