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Preserve PEC’s Important Bird Area



May 16, 2011

Treat Hull delivered the following remarks to a meeting organized by the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists and the Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory in Picton on May 16, 2011. Mr. Hull represents the Green Party of Ontario as its candidate for Prince Edward – Hastings and its provincial energy critic.

“Thank you for the invitation to speak today. As Energy Critic for the Green Party of Ontario, I have made it my business to become well informed about the province’s energy challenges. I would like to draw on that research today to reach out in a non-partisan way –to supporters of all parties, and to both supporters and opponents of industrial wind energy—to support a very specific goal: preservation of the Prince Edward County’s South Shore Important Bird Area.

In my experience, the vast majority of people I speak with agree that it’s important to reduce our carbon footprint as a province. It’s a widely shared goal.

At the same time, we have to recognize that significantly reducing our carbon footprint is an immense challenge with complex economic, environmental and social trade-offs. It should come as no surprise then that people who genuinely agree on the goal can disagree on how to get there.  If we are to find our way through this complex issue without tearing our communities apart, what’s needed is a climate of mutual respect and understanding, rather than branding those who disagree with dismissive epithets like NIMBY, etc.

The opening presenters have eloquently described the key role that the south shore of the Prince Edward County plays in the life cycle of migratory birds. Who knew that more than 50% of the North American population of some species can migrate through the airspace over the southern County in a single day! Give the importance and sensitivity of the area for migrating birds, what possible justification could there be for siting a wind farm there. I was able to come up with two potential justifications which I would now like to look at in greater detail.

First, an argument could be made that the province has such an immediate and urgent need for the energy from the project, a need so great that it outweighs the acknowledged risks to birds and endangered species. This might be a compelling reason if it was true, but I believe that it does not stand up under closer examination.

The most convincing rebuttal was provided by Brad Duguid, the Minister of Energy himself, when he cancelled the planned 900 megawatt gas turbine generating plant last October. In announcing the cancellation, the Minister acknowledged that the plant was no longer needed because energy demand in the province was proving to be less than expected. Some of this, he explained, was due to the economic recession, but much of it he attributed to conservation efforts and the long-term trend to move from a manufacturing to a service- and knowledge-based economy.

To put this in concrete terms, when the Minister cancelled the Oakville plant because it was not needed to meet the province’s energy needs, that was equivalent to the output from 1,620 industrial turbines. How is it possible to argue that the province faces such a critical energy shortage that we have no choice but to put wind turbines in Important Bird Areas?

In truth, there is no short-term energy supply emergency in Ontario which would justify putting migratory birds at risk. On the contrary, in the short run, many analysts believe that we actually have a generation surplus and expect continuing cut-rate power sales to the US at ratepayer expense.

But what if the analysis I have presented is wrong and energy demand does exceed our generation capacity? Would wind power development in environmentally sensitive areas be justified then?

In my opinion, the answer is an unequivocal “no” because even if we do face a situation of excess demand in the short run, there are other options to address the situation with much lower cost and environmental impact.

Let’s be perfectly honest, every form of energy generation has some negative environmental consequences.  There are no “perfect” solutions and every option represents a trade-off of some kind.  What is striking to me, however, is that we are rushing to develop industrial wind in areas of high risk to birds and wildlife when we have barely begun to take advantage of other lower impact solutions, especially conservation and energy efficiency improvement

By far and away the most effective solution is to reduce demand through conservation. It stands to reason that is better for the environment to practice conservation rather than to build new generation capacity of any kind. It turns out that it’s better economics too. To reduce demand by a kilowatt-hour costs between 2.3 – 4.6 cents, while generating the same kilowatt-hour of power through industrial wind costs in excess of 13 cents.

Despite the self-congratulatory rhetoric of our politicians, we have barely started to take advantage of conservation here in Ontario. To put this in a real-world context, New York and Michigan share our cold climate, but they have achieved levels of energy productivity – economic output per kilowatt-hour of power used—that are 20-30% better than Ontario.

Rather than building wind power projects in environmentally sensitive areas, wouldn’t it make sense to really pursue conservation first? Unfortunately, it at the same time as it is continuing to support wind power development in the Important Bird Area, the Ontario government has chosen to terminate the very successful “Home Energy Saving Program” which helped homeowners upgrade their energy efficiency.

We’re not talking about some “pie in the sky” targets. Just achieving the same levels as our US neighbours would eliminate significant need for new generation.

Let me give one other example of energy efficiency improvement to illustrate the practicality of what I proposing. In large building in urban areas, the natural gas is a common source for heating. Unfortunately, the physics of heating systems means that these heating systems are at best about 30% efficient. In other words, about 70% of the heat energy created by burning the natural gas goes up the chimney as waste heat.

Most of this waste heat can be recovered and turned into electrical energy using a proven approach called “combined heat and power” or CHP. With CHP, the efficiency goes from 30% to near 90%, turning waste heat into an electrical generation source. Widely used in Europe, unfavourable regulation and red tape have limited the use of CHP in Ontario, but red tape is no justification. Before we build industrial wind plants in environmentally sensitive areas, let’s make sure we’ve cut the red tape and that we’re using the wasted energy going up our chimneys in cities first.

In closing, I would like to point out that the government appears to be acting mainly as an advocate for the power plant developers. If that’s the case, who is advocating for the environment, the endangered species and the migratory birds?

The government seems reassured by the proponent’s short-term studies for the Ostrander Point project which purport to show an “acceptable” level of bird kills for this single project. The reality is that the birds will not just face this one obstacle, but many such obstacles: developers have proposed multiple projects with hundreds of turbines along the Important Bird Areas at the east end of Lake Ontario.

The situation reminds me, in a sick kind of way, of the popular TV show called WipeOut where contestants have to navigate not one, but a series of obstacles to avoid humiliation.  Unfortunately, the birds won’t have to pass through this “wipeout” obstacle course of multiple wind projects just once in a season. As the previous speakers have shown, the birds often fly back and forth along the north shore of Lake Ontario waiting for favourable weather to cross the lake.  Just like WipeOut, it’s not enough for them to get past a single obstacle, they will have to run the whole course successfully…over and over again. It’s time for the government and our elected officials to put aside the parochial viewpoint of a single project and to start looking at the big picture.

In conclusion, let me reiterate my initial question. How can we justify putting migratory birds and endangered species at risk when the government’s action in cancelling the Oakville plant –equivalent to more than a thousand wind turbines—demonstrates that they see no vital need for the energy in the short run? How can we justify putting migratory birds and endangered species at risk when we have barely scratched the surface of conservation?

This is obviously a political issue and I would welcome your support in this fall’s election. But even more important, an informed and active citizenry is what keeps elected officials honest and on track. I applaud what you’re doing here and encourage you to support the petition which the organizers are circulating.”

Filed Under: Letters and Opinion

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  1. Doris Lane says:

    Treat a very informed and well thought out presentation. Be sure you read his words carefully
    I think he believes that location is the key to installing IWT.s

  2. Donna says:

    If you represent the ‘Green’ Party, then I for one, will NOT be voting Green.

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