Day 9 of Ostrander Point — Scottish expert Martin Scott on birds and wind energy projects
[Following is a report by Paula Peel, South Shore Conservancy.]
Note: The ERT will resume in Sophiasburgh Town Hall in Demorestville on Wednesday, April 3 (Dr. Fred Beaudry on Blanding’s turtle) at 10:00 am. It will continue at the same location on Thursday (Ted Cheskey, Nature Canada) and Friday (Bill Evans, Cornell University), starting at 9:30 am each day.
The Environmental Review Tribunal hearings for this week concluded with video testimony yesterday from Edinburgh by a British expert on birds and wind energy projects.
On March 28, Martin Scott, ecologist and former conservation officer with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), testified before the ERT panel by video ink from Edinburgh. Mr. Scott said that the RSPB is Europe’s largest conservation charity with over 1.1 million members and 600 staff. In his years at RSPB Mr. Scott consulted on many Scottish wind projects. He is presently employed as a Senior Ecologist at ATMOS Consulting Ltd., a firm specializing in birds and renewable energy.
All parties agreed on Mr. Scott’s qualifications. Robert Wright, one of the ERT panel co-chairs, qualified Mr. Scott as having expertise on birds in the United Kingdom and in renewable energy projects in the U.K.
Review of Mr. Scott’s Witness Statements
PECFN lawyer Eric Gillespie guided Mr. Scott through his witness statement. Mr. Scott restated his opinion that the Gilead proposal will
- cause serious and irreversible harm to the Important Bird Area (IBA) as a result of birds killed in the lifespan of the proposed wind project,
- cause serious and irreversible harm to breeding birds in Ostrander Point’s high-quality habitat, and
- impact species as risk because the lakeside location has a high concentration of species at risk.
Mr. Scott stated that the Gilead wind project is a clear example of a project in the wrong place. The IBA is a migration corridor and funnel point for migrating birds. Mr. Scott noted that IBAs in Scotland are protected by Scottish law and many are also protected by Directives. In an international context it is unique to see a wind project within an IBA, with Bulgaria and Spain being the only exceptions. However, even the Bulgarian wind project is alongside, not within, an IBA. According to Mr. Scott, a large number of NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) in many countries, including developing countries, are aware of what is proposed at Ostrander Point and question why Canada would put major wildlife habitat in jeopardy.
Mr. Scott noted that a number of published and peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals detail the serious impacts from inappropriately located projects. One such project is in Spain, near Gibraltar, which, as the narrowest point between Europe and Africa, functions as a funnel or migration portal. Another project is at Altamont Pass, California, where a 2009 study estimated up to 10,000 birds per year are killed.
Mr. Scott stressed it is all about “location, location, location”.
A. Species-specific factor
Douglas Hamilton (lawyer for Gilead Power) asked Mr. Scott whether studies of wind turbines and bird mortality to date show inconsistent results with respect to species vulnerability, and which specific breeding birds cited in his witness statement would be vulnerable. Mr. Scott identified Whip-poor-will, Northern Harrier, Field Sparrow, Henslow’s Sparrow (recorded historically in the area), Eastern Meadowlark, Wilson’s Snipe, and American Woodcock. Migrating birds likely to be impacted were raptors such as Golden Eagles, Bald Eagles, Turkey Vultures, Ospreys, and Short-eared Owls. Nighthawks use the area in large numbers as do Barn Swallows and Purple Martins. Mr. Scott said the list was large because a host of birds migrate to this area.
In view of the species-specific factor, Mr. Scott said that knowledge of particular bird species is needed in order to quantify the risk. This knowledge includes trend and distribution of each species and information on natural mortality and productivity. Mr. Scott noted that the Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory has recorded numbers and trends over a long period of time, including trends within Ontario species at risk. However, this information is not provided in any Stantec reports.
B. Site-specific factor
Hamilton asked Mr. Scott what site specific factors were relevant in his opinion. Mr. Scott said that Stantec documents like the Environmental Impact Assessment and the Draft Environment Review Report make quite clear that birds heavily utilize Ostrander Point. More on-site work would be required for a similar project in Scotland. For example, in Scotland maps are required showing locations of all bird activity at the site, and models indicate how important the site is for birds.
Hamilton pointed out a study suggesting it was an oversimplification to conclude that the more birds there are the higher the mortality. Mr. Scott replied that it might or might not be true, but a single study was not definitive by any means.
Hamilton asked Mr. Scott what specific mitigations or compensatory measures he took into account in his assessment. Mr. Scott replied that talk of turbine shutdowns was the primary one. Hamilton asked if Mr. Scott recalled any other mitigations such as radar systems. Mr. Scott said that in the U.K. radar is not considered a mitigation.
C. Avoidance factor
Sylvia Davis (lawyer for the Ministry of the Environment) noted a study cited by Mr. Scott showing 7 of 12 species which exhibited avoidance behavior around wind turbines. However, none of these 7 species is native to Canada. Why would Canadian species, which have evolved in different settings, behave the same as similar species in Europe? Mr. Scott replied that his opinion was based on fundamental biological concepts widely accepted by any biologist.
Davis asked why Ostrander Point would affect birds the same as at Altamont Pass. Mr. Scott explained that both sites function as major migration funnels.
Finally, Davis asked whether the “sensible approach” isn’t to suspend operations during specific times of the year. Mr. Scott said that while this is a recognized option it is not economical due to the mathematics of profit. He added he has never heard of an instance where wind turbines have been shut down.
During re-examination by Mr. Gillespie, Mr. Scott noted that radar has been successfully used as a tool in monitoring bird activity. However, radar technology is not presently used for collision avoidance. Nor was Mr. Scott aware of any studies on the subject. Until this technology improves there is no way to shut down turbines upon the approach of birds. Furthermore, no technology allows turbines to be shut down instantaneously to avoid striking a vulture.
The ERT Panel had no questions. Mr. Wright noted the lateness of the hour in Edinburgh and thanked Mr. Scott for his time.