A dearth of studies about how wind turbines affect flying wildlife has meant a report about the deaths caused by the Wolfe Island eco-power facility has unleashed a firestorm of controversy.
The project initially divided residents of Wolfe Island, so much so that healing is now needed, noted Wind Concerns Ontario. Now the first report on the avian deaths caused by the wind farm planted on the western end of Wolfe Island is creating more dissension. The con side says too many birds are being killed by the turbines, while the pro side says the numbers of dead are not unusual.
The wind farm on Wolfe Island, located in the St. Lawrence River near Kingston, is run by TransAlta. Because Wolfe Island is "an important bird area," identified as such by "BirdLife International, in cooperation with Bird Studies Canada and Nature Canada," a Post-Construction Follow-up Plan was drafted for the project, requiring monitoring of the impacts of the turbines on the bird population for three years.
The first monitoring report was quietly released in May. Covering the first six months of operations (July to December 2009), 100 dead birds had been found representing 33 different species. Stantec, the company monitoring the deaths, extrapolated from those 100 dead birds that a total of 602 birds had been killed during the first six months of operation of the wind farm. The number of bats killed during the six month period was extrapolated to be 1,270.
One critic of the wind farm wrote the raptor death rate constituted a reportable event, because more raptors are being killed by the turbines than officials want to see. Nature Canada characterized the number of mortalities as "shockingly high," saying "It is interesting and very troubling to note the selective impact these turbines are inflicting on certain groups of animals, such as the aerial insectivorous birds like swallows and martins which are in serious population declines, raptors, and migratory bats." Nature Canada concluded by saying "... We hope that this report, and the stir it will cause, will wake up those agencies charged with protecting our wildlife to put brakes on the chaotic expansion of wind farms into places that they clearly should avoid. Wind energy is a good idea. Let's "keep good ideas in good places." In the wrong places - Important Bird Areas and migration corridors for example - wind energy is a bad idea and our wildlife, which does not have a voice, continues to pay the price for our lack of foresight and greed. I fear that the Stantec report will be the first of many that will chronicle this sad legacy that we are creating."
TransAlta, on the other hand, says the numbers of birds and bats killed by the turbines thus far are normal and not high. Environmental Services Manager for TransAlta, Scott Hossie, told the Whig Standard"The results we're seeing (are) within the range we're seeing elsewhere. The consensus is we're looking forward to gathering another six months of statistics." Hossie went on to say "... the wind farm "is fitting in with the ecology of the island" and that the field monitors are finding no evidence of habitat disturbance because of the turbines."
A California wind farm, Altamont Pass, which at one time was responsible for the deaths of between 880 to 1,300 raptors per year is still operating -- and still killing raptors and other birds. The wind farm was to reduce the number of raptor deaths by 50% after environmental groups won their legal case against the corporation.
More wind farm projects are planned for the St. Lawrence area.
The Province of Ontario has created a "5 kilometer exclusion zone" for wind farms, the Toronto Star reported.