The channel that separates Amherst Island from Prince Edward County is scarcely two kilometres wide. The island itself is tiny—just 20 kilometres long and seven kilometres across at its widest point. It is likely that in some ancient past Prince Edward County and Amherst Island were connected.
Now these communities share a common threat—a threat to the birds that stopover on their way north and south. To the animals that live here and make this unique habitat their own. To a pastoral way of life. And to the very health and well-being of the folks who who call these island communities home.
Earlier this month, the Ontario Ministry of Environment (MOE) deemed complete an application by a company controlled by Algonquin Power to construct as many as 37 industrial wind turbines on this small and fragile island. Thirty seven turbines. Each soaring more than 400 feet into the air— blades sweeping the sky over a span of 10,000 square metres (equal to two acres of sky for each turbine).
Once erected— there will be no escape. No place to avoid the unrelenting thrum or flicker from blades swooshing overhead. No safe passage for migrating birds seeking to avoid the treacherous minefield of turbines stretching across the island.
The playground for the only elementary school on the island lies within 550 metres of one of the proposed turbines. Hydro One won’t allow wind turbines that close to its transmission lines for fear of damage—but the Ontario government deems school children less valuable, it seems.
The simple truth is that it is impossible to cram 37 turbines onto this tiny island and avoid putting humans, animals and natural habitat at risk. It is why the developer, in a report prepared by a consultant on the threat posed by this project to more than 14 endangered or threatened species, stresses that it will work to minimize the impact of its project, but that its first obligation is to “ensure the commitments of the contract” and “ensure renewable energy is delivered to the province”. The developer has made it clear what its priorities are.
We know too, from experience in this community, what the province’s priorities are. The MOE and Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) is already running ahead to clear the regulatory path for the developer. Endangered species and human health concerns are merely check boxes on a form to be filled in.
Once the turbines are erected Amherst Island will be lost for at least a generation—disfigured and devastated for the duration of the developer’s guaranteed 20-year contract with the province. For species on the brink of survival, the damage may well be permanent.
Nearby, Wolfe Island with 86 turbines, kills about 1,000 birds, and 1,900 bats per year, according to a 2011 study—a number Nature Canada describes as “shockingly high”. Certainly, Wolfe Island has proven to be far deadlier to bird and animal life than predicted when the project was approved.
Times readers may well view the tragedy unfolding next door on Amherst Island as tragic— but there are just as terrible prospects of industrial wind turbine destruction here in the County.
Both communities now share a common champion. Indeed, anyone who understands the destructive folly of Ontario’s energy policy and the authoritarian manner by which it has been thrust upon rural communities will know by now that their best hope for a reprieve lies with the victory won by the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists (PECFN).
This past spring PECFN, its supporters, lawyers and expert witnesses—convinced a Tribunal appointed by the MOE that the risk to the Blanding’s turtle was simply too great—that the mitigation measures were unproven and insufficient.
The Tribunal’s members, Robert Wright and Heather Gibbs, did what the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Natural Resources should have done—stopped the project. The threat was too great. And the devastating impact likely permanent.
If their judgement survives appeal—heard last week in Toronto—it will become a critical beachhead in the battle to end the indiscriminate devastation of rural Ontario by industrial wind turbine developers. Their decision will form the foundation of the defence of other sensitive habitats and other endangered species.
Amherst Island is home dozens of endangered species. As is South Marysburgh. North Marysburgh. Haldimand. Kincardine. Grand Bend. Thunder Bay. North Gower.
The Prince Edward County Field Naturalists have funded this appeal with the generosity of many in this community and beyond. The bills, however, are accumulating faster than the donations. They need your help more than ever. They need and deserve the support of every group and individual offended by or at risk from the province’s heavy-handed Green Energy Act and the devastation it has wrought on rural Ontario.
PECFN has produced a ray of hope to all those who have battled this terrible policy. Let us do what we can to ensure these champions have the resources to pay for this fight—and the ones to follow.