Day 18 of Ostrander Point — Fiona McGuiness (MNR)
Report on April 26th ERT Hearing
by Henri Garand, Chair, APPEC
Fiona McGuiness, fish and wildlife program advisor in renewable energy projects for the Ministry of Natural Resources, took up the whole day of the hearing.
Examination of Fiona McGuiness
Ms. McGuiness explained the MNR’s Bird and Bird Habitat Guidelines and Bat and Bat Habitat Guidelines. Both documents were updated in 2010 by a team of biologists who considered public consultation comments and Environment Canada’s guidelines for birds. The purpose of the revision was to “support green energy and inform Natural Heritage Assessments” through guidelines that applied to both Crown and private land.
The guidelines describe protocols for pre- and post-construction assessment, and their goal is to minimize and mitigate the direct and indirect effects of projects on both habitat and wildlife mortality. To control the latter, wind projects must not exceed thresholds of 10 bats and 14 birds per turbine per year. The thresholds are based on observed fatalities at North American wind projects and are independent of bird and bat population levels of individual species.
Fatalities are counted during three years of post-construction monitoring. Carcasses are collected within a 50-m radius of each turbine. The raw data is corrected for scavenger efficiency at the site, searcher effectiveness (based on evaluation after training), and the proportion of the area readily searchable. If thresholds are exceeded for birds, additional years of monitoring are required to determine the cause(s). Mitigation for bats involves shutting down the turbines during low wind speeds when bats are most active and susceptible.
Fatalities are recorded by MNR and added to a database developed by MNR, Birds Studies Canada, and the wind energy industry. The database enables the assessment of cumulative impacts.
Ms. McGuiness said that Ontario’s guidelines are the most prescriptive in North America: they are mandatory, not negotiated or voluntary, and they are widespread in application.
Following Ms. McGuiness’ testimony, Gilead Power lawyer Bryn Gray introduced an MNR policy document on wind energy development on Crown land.
PECFN lawyer Eric Gillespie objected because its content went beyond the scope of the ERT by citing a development goal related to the “social and economic wellbeing of the Province.” After a lengthy dispute, all parties agreed to limit the document’s focus to “environmental” matters, and the ERT panel accepted it as background on the usage terms at Ostrander Point.
PECFN Cross-Examination of Ms. McGuiness
Mr. Gillespie asked Ms. McGuiness the purpose of monitoring mortality at wind projects when birds suffered higher mortality from other causes. She said it was to minimize the effects of a project and identify extreme situations. Mr. Gillespie then asked whether “serious and irreversible harm” was considered in the bird and bat guidelines since some wind projects had significant effects. Ms. McGuiness replied that “serious and irreversible harm” applied at the population level, which varied with each species’ abundance and range. Mr. Gillespie pressed further, and Ms. McGuiness conceded that it was “possible” for wind projects to cause serious and irreversible harm to birds and bats.
On the topic of cumulative effects, Ms. McGuiness said that the guidelines apply to individual projects. The MNR does not adjust mortality thresholds by the number of projects or even track the number of projects. Nor does it try to predict mortality based on other wind projects because mortality rates are site specific.
Ministry of Environment Re-Examination
Ministry of Environment lawyer Sarah Kronkamp asked Ms. McGuiness to explain how Important Bird Areas (IBA) are considered in assessments. Ms. McGuiness said that though IBAs contain significant habitat they also contain less significant habitat.
MNR focuses on habitat because it, rather than pre-construction monitoring, is a reliable predictor of post-construction mortality. If mortality thresholds are not exceeded, then no serious and irreversible harm results; if they are exceeded, then mitigation is required.
ERT Panel’s Questions
Co-chair Robert Wright asked why the threshold of 14 birds per turbine was almost 600 percent higher than the average reported mortality of 2.5 birds per turbine per year. Ms. McGuiness said the threshold is set at the 95th percentile of the records for all wind projects.
Mr. Wright also asked whether mortality or habitat loss has more impact. Ms. McGuiness said that habitat protection is important for birds, but mortality might have more impact on bats, though bat population levels have not been accurately determined.
Mr. Gillespie asked Ms. McGuiness to note Environment Canada’s guidelines for determining site sensitivity: presence of species at risk, proximity to a National Wildlife Area, location within an IBA, location in a bird migration corridor. Ms. McGuiness admitted that these would give a rating of high risk to Ostrander Point.
Mr. Gillespie asked about mitigation of direct and indirect effects. Ms. McGuiness said mitigation is always possible for mortality because turbines can be shut down. Contingency plans could counter indirect effects, but possibly some effects could not be mitigated.