Day 16 — Dr. Karen Voltura (DeTect) and Eric Prevost (MNR)
Report on April 24th ERT Hearing
by Henri Garand, Chair, APPEC
The Environmental Review Tribunal heard testimony from Dr. Karen Voltura, DeTect Inc., and Eric Prevost, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR).
Qualifying of Dr. Karen Voltura
Dr. Voltura has a Ph. D. In zoology, has held university and research positions, and formerly was chief of operations for Flyway Airport Management, with responsibility for preventing bird collisions at several U.S. Air Force bases. Currently she is Director of Wind Energy Systems, DeTect Inc., a developer and supplier of Merlin radar.
PECFN lawyer Eric Gillespie asked how sales of Merlin radar would affect Dr. Voltura’s employment. She said it would change her job description but not her employment with DeTect.
Dr. Voltura was qualified as an expert in “bird behavior and avian radar systems.”
Examination of Dr. Voltura
Dr. Voltura explained the operation of the Merlin radar system. It consists of two major components: horizontal radar able to detect flying objects nearly 4 km away and vertical radar able to detect objects as high as 1.8 km. Both radars track flying objects by scanning at two-second intervals. A computer model analyzes the raw data to determine whether birds and bats are present, but it cannot differentiate between the two. If the number of birds (or bats) poses a risk, the system is capable of either shutting down wind turbines automatically or sending an urgent message to an offsite supervisor who would make the shutdown decision.
Besides military airports, Merlin radar is used at eight U.S. wind projects. After Mr. Gillespie objected to the lack of prior disclosure, Dr. Voltura limited her comments to two projects, both on the Gulf coast of Texas. They are land-based projects, with 118 and 84 wind turbines, in areas of bird migration, chiefly waterfowl. The Merlin system takes into account weather, wind speed, and visibility in analyzing bird passage rates and assessing high-risk activity. After the risk has passed, curtailment of turbines usually lasts a further 5-10 minutes. In two years of operation both wind projects have averaged two bird deaths per turbine per year.
Dr. Voltura said the computer models are site specific and are based on pre-installation bird surveys. She did not say whether such information is available for developing a model for Ostrander Point (OP), nor did she testify on the similarities of or differences between OP and the Texas wind projects.
Cross-Examination of Dr. Voltura
Neither the Ministry of Environment’s lawyer nor PECFN’s asked any questions. Consequently, there was no evidence presented on the effectiveness of the Merlin system for OP.
Qualifying of Eric Prevost
Mr. Eric Prevost has a B.Sc. in Environmental Resource Studies and has worked for the MNR as a fish and wildlife technician specializing in forest management and environmental permitting. Currently he is an MNR Senior Ecologist, Renewable Energy Planning, whose work consists of reviewing reports such as Class Environmental Assessments, Natural Heritage Assessments, and Environmental Impact Studies. He has reviewed reports for 11 wind projects.
Eric Gillespie asked whether Mr. Prevost had received any training related to Renewable Energy Approvals (REA). He said he has not.
Mr. Gillespie noted that Mr. Prevost was going to testify on both his own review work and that of another MNR witness unable to appear at the ERT. He questioned the expertise of the witness in offering confirmatory opinions.
The ERT panel qualified Mr. Prevost, not as having expertise, but “experience” in reviewing reports regarding their compliance with Ontario government guidelines and regulations.
Examination of Eric Prevost
The bulk of Mr. Prevost’s dry testimony consisted of his explaining the contents of different reports required for an REA or an MNR permit, identifying parts of these at issue for OP, and stating that the OP reports met certain guidelines or regulations. In most cases there was little detail about the specifics of compliance except in terms of standards for significant habitat (size, abundance and diversity of species, etc.). An Important Bird Area is not automatically considered as significant.
Mr. Prevost also explained the absence of some reports by stating that field studies at OP had found no significant waterfowl or Monarch butterfly habitat, no bat hibernacula and maternity roosts, no project components within wetlands, and no raptor feeding and roosting habitat that met MNR guidelines. He said that Gilead’s field work had exceeded the norm in providing information across the site on breeding bird counts and raptor surveys, bat studies, and amphibian breeding. This information enabled fuller assessment, monitoring, and mitigation.
However, he noted that OP is an area of concern for land bird stopover migratory habitat and for shrub successional breeding bird habitat.
Comparing post-construction requirements for Wolfe Island and OP, Mr. Prevost said the latter’s had lower mortality thresholds for birds and were enforceable by regulation.
Mr. Prevost concluded by saying he was still awaiting public consultation on the DRAFT Alvar Management Plan.
PECFN’s cross-examination of Mr. Prevost’s paper review takes place April 25.