Day 20 of Ostrander Point — Dr. S. Reynolds on bats and Dr. D. Larsen on alvar
Report on April 30th ERT Hearing
by Paula Peel, APPEC
Two witnesses for Gilead Power gave evidence at the hearing: Dr. Scott Reynolds testified on bats and Dr. Doug Larsen on alvar.
Qualifying of Dr. Reynolds
Dr. Reynolds’ area of research is population and conservation biology relating to bats. He has done pre-construction impact assessments on bats at 50 wind projects to date.
Gilead lawyer Bryn Gray sought to qualify Dr. Reynolds as an expert in impacts of wind farms on bats. There were no objections. Dr. Reynolds was so qualified by the ERT panel.
Examination of Dr. Reynolds
The bulk of Dr. Reynolds’ testimony consisted of data review:
- Dr. Reynolds followed up Dr. Barclay’s criticism that bat activity at Ostrander site was not compared with other sites. Dr. Reynolds said that data from other sites averaged 23.6 calls per night, comparable to 23.7 calls per night at Ostrander.
- Generally most bat mortality occurs in August and September. Data indicates bat activity at Ostrander Point declines substantially from summer to fall.
The project will not cause significant and irreversible harm to bats at the population level. The project is small, the habitat is unremarkable, the bat population is unremarkable, and mitigations are substantial.
Cross-examination of Dr. Reynolds
PECFN lawyer Eric Gillespie asked whether at any time a wind farm has been located in an inappropriate location. Dr. Reynolds replied that he has testified on projects where data was insufficient and quality of data is lacking. His role is to assess whether data meets regulatory thresholds.
Eric Gillespie asked about the Furlonger study of project sites which Dr. Reynolds claimed are within 5 km of Ostrander Point but are instead located on Lake Erie. Dr. Reynolds agreed that water is a key variable but said it is not possible to mitigate for water or edges. Mr. Gillespie suggested that mitigation could occur at the pre-approval stage by simply not locating a project close to water or edge.
Mr. Gillespie asked if Stantec did a bat habitat assessment. Dr. Reynolds said that as he is “not Stantec” he has no idea whether the location of receptors was accidental or was related to habitat assessment.
Dr. Reynolds stated that post-construction surveys (2012) at Wolfe Island recorded 6.2 to 16.1 bats per turbine annually. Mr. Gillespie asked whether the project has therefore significantly exceeded 10 bats per turbine per year. Dr. Reynolds agreed with “exceeded” but not with the term “significantly”. Given the proximity of the Wolfe Island and Ostrander Point projects as well as similar habitat, Dr. Reynolds said it is reasonable to expect similar mortality rates.
Eric Gillespie asked whether fatalities at Ostrander Point would be higher because the turbines are larger than at Wolfe Island and at Maple Ridge in New York. Dr. Reynolds replied that bats have to be there before they can be hit.
Mr. Gillespie asked Dr. Reynolds whether, given the blade sweep of 100 m and turbine heights of 150 m, a monitor placed at 30 or 40 m would pick up sufficient bat activity. Dr. Reynolds agreed that if these turbine specifications are correct it would be better to sample at 80 m.
Eric Gillespie asked Dr. Reynolds to consider the impact on species of concern, particularly given the low reproductive rate of bats and losses due to white nose syndrome. Would Dr. Reynolds agree that the mortality of one individual of a threatened or endangered species is serious? Dr. Reynolds disagreed. Mortality is a factor at the level of regional populations.
Eric Gillespie showed Dr. Reynolds two excerpts from his study of the Maple Ridge wind farm. Dr. Reynolds said he was not willing to comment when he did not have the full study before him.
ERT Panel Questions
Co-chair Robert Wright asked Dr. Reynolds for his thoughts on thresholds per turbine as opposed to thresholds across the project. Dr. Reynolds replied that thresholds can be provided per turbine, per megawatt, per metre of rotor sweep zone, or for the whole project. Multiple thresholds might make it difficult to establish triggers. For example, the per-turbine threshold may be exceeded, but the per-project threshold might be low. But he agreed with Mr. Wright’s suggestion that one could say “first exceeded”.
Qualifying Dr. Larsen
Dr. Larsen is Professor Emeritus at the University of Guelph and has researched and taught restoration ecology at the University for many years. His first published paper on alvar was in 1997. He has published several papers on alvars since but has never been lead author.
Gilead lawyer Doug Hamilton asked that Dr. Larsen be qualified as a terrestrial ecologist with expertise in restoration ecology, ecology of alvars and experimental design. There were no objections, and Dr. Larsen was qualified by the ERT panel.
Examination of Dr. Larsen
Dr. Larsen said that the Alvar Management Plan takes an approach he would use if designing restoration for Ostrander Point. He noted the condition in the Renewable Energy Approval to improve alvar vegetation communities on site, and based on what he has seen, Stantec will do its best to make a disturbed site function and to make things work better than beforehand. However, Dr. Larsen said that the degree of improvement cannot be predicted. For example, ripping out buckthorn may not stop the problem; many species are distribution-dependent and return in greater numbers when ripped out.
Dr. Larsen criticized Dr. Catling’s concern with the target for site revegetation in order to restore the pre-construction level. Dr. Larsen argued that according to Dr. Catling’s definition of “restoration” nothing could be restored.
Dr. Larsen testified that Ostrander Point, which he visited on April 19, contains a huge population of invasive trees and shrubs. He had looked hard to find original vegetation, but there are no hallmarks of an earlier ecosystem. The site is undergoing regeneration from a massive disturbance. It has developed unassisted over a period of about 50-70 years. Widespread tough plants which have survived in past will continue on their own.
Dr. Larsen disputed Dr. Catling’s conclusion that there will be serious and irreversible harm. He considers this conclusion astonishing since alvars are not well understood with regard to species mobility, species interaction, and species dependency on drought or flood conditions.
Dr. Larsen also disputed Dr. Catling’s estimate that damage will extend 50 ha. If a site is restored, by definition there is no serious and irreversible harm to the plant community.