Nation Rise approval revoked by Environment minister to protect endangered bats; developer threatening legal action

Some of the 10 turbines at Brinston's South Branch Wind Farm, another EDPR project, as seen in 2016. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

NORTH STORMONT — Citing “irreversible harm” to endangered bats, Jeff Yurek, Ontario Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks, has issued a decision revoking the Renewable Energy Approval for the Nation Rise wind power project being built in North Stormont, near Ottawa.

“Perplexed” by the minister’s “unprecedented” move it says has forced a halt to construction, developer EDP Renewables Canada Ltd. is now assessing “potential legal actions.”

The minister’s decision — a copy of which has been obtained by NVN — was in response to an appeal filed by community group Concerned Citizens of North Stormont of a quasi-judicial decision supporting the project approval.

Yurek concluded “that the wind turbines would cause serious and irreversible harm to endangered bat populations in the area. The potential for harm to wildlife was considered in the context of the contribution to Ontario’s electricity supply in Ontario, which would be minimal, and the minister concluded it was in the public interest and a precaution to protect the environment to revoke approval” for the 29-turbine project, says Wind Concerns Ontario — an opponent of the turbine industry — in its assessment of the decision.

The construction seen at two of 29 turbine sites in North Stormont (above and below), photographed from a couple of different vantage points in November. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) spokesperson Gary Wheeler said that Yurek’s cancellation of Nation Rise’s REA was made “upon careful consideration.”

“It is the minister’s belief that the project is likely to cause serious and irreversible harm to the local bat populations,” said Wheeler, adding that Yurek has directed ministry staff “to review how harm to bats is assessed as part of the renewable energy approval process and related guidelines …”

Margaret Benke, representing the Concerned Citizens of North Stormont (CCNS) welcomed the minister’s decision. The group had raised many concerns about the environment in its appeal. “Now,” she says, “the environment, wildlife and human health will be protected from the harmful effects of wind turbines.”

Benke thanked the many people who supported the Concerned Citizens group financially and with submissions of information for the original appeal before the Environmental Review Tribunal and subsequent appeal to the minister. “This power project has been very divisive for our community; now North Stormont can again be a good place to grow.”

The Nation Rise project had been granted approval for up 33 turbines located near Finch, Berwick and Crysler in Eastern Ontario. The project was planned to generate up to 100 megawatts of electricity under a 20-year, $400-million contract awarded by the IESO.

CCNS is a community group member of the Wind Concerns Ontario coalition.

NVN is seeking comment from other concerned parties in the township.

Ruby Mekker, an outspoken neighbour of the project, said, “I am thrilled. We’ve had so many false hopes. Thank you, Mr. Yurek.”

It’s not without precedent for the Ford government to kibosh a wind turbine project already under construction. Earlier this year,  the partially built White Pines project in Prince Edward County was halted by special legislation; disassembly began this fall. The Ford Conservatives had run on an election platform promising to end renewable energy contracts in 2018. For local Tory supporters, Nation Rise stood out as a perplexing exception when the project broke ground this year, entirely under the watch of the governing party.

While the developer had the province’s green light for 33 turbines, the final number was scaled back to 29 by upsizing the generator size to achieve the same combined maximum output. All 29 concrete foundations have been poured — each consuming between 500 and 700 cubic meters of cement — and six of the turbine towers have been erected to date. Kilometres of temporary roads have been constructed onto private fields to access the turbine sites, and kilometres of communication cables have been trenched along local roadways to accommodate the build.

This article has been edited to include EDP Renewable’s confirmation of the minister’s decision, the company’s reaction to it and comments from MECP’s Gary Wheeler.

See the full minister’s full decision below.

 

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