Could this bird stop Suncor’s wind project?


Wind turbine opponents are hoping a tiny rare bird could be the undoing of the Suncor Energy wind project in Plympton-Wyoming.

We’re Against Wind Turbines Plympton Wyoming has been trying to find a way to stop Suncor Energy from building its 42-industrial turbine project in the Camlachie area since plans for it were unveiled several years ago. But the provincial government has been encouraging wind energy projects and has removed many potential roadblocks through the Green Energy Act.

People who are opposed to the projects, concerned about potential health and environmental affects, have appeal the approval of 28 projects across the province. Only one of those appeals stopped a project – at least temporarily. That was the nine-turbine Ostrander Point project which was halted when the Environmental Review Tribunal ruled the potential damage to the threatened Blanding Turtle could be irreversible.

WAIT hopes the bobolink do the same with the Cedar Point project.

Kristen Rodrigues of WAIT recently obtained a Species at Risk Study done by Stantec Consulting for Suncor using the Freedom of Information Act. The study was submitted to the Ministry of the Environment last July – part of the requirements for approval of wind energy projects.

But it was never released to the public. Rodrigues says Suncor was concerned releasing it might identify where rare birds and animals were and put them at further risk. WAIT filed the Freedom of Information Act request for the study and received it earlier this month.

The study shows there are 16 birds and animals which have been identified by the Ministry of Natural Resources as species at risk in the area Suncor wants to put its wind turbines. “Only one is addressed in some depth – the bobolink,” says Rodrigues.

“They are a threatened species and under provincial protection…they are highly sensitive to humans and development.”

The MNR’s website says bobolinks nest in grassland and while there have been many sightings of the songbird in Ontario, their population has dropped an alarming 33 per cent over the past 10 years.

The MNR’s recovery plan for the bobolink (and Eastern Meadowlark which was not listed as a concern for the area) says the birds need grasslands and hayfields to build nests.

The biggest threat to those grasslands is agricultural development the MNR says.

But the Stantec report shows the Suncor project could eliminate 20 of those grassland sites which may be home to the bobolinks.

Rodrigues says Stantec acknowledged the birds and their habitat would be in the path of the development and said Suncor would “work around them in the fall, when they weren’t nesting.” Rodrigues says the company would still be destroying valuable grassland habitat.

And even if working in the fall would save the bobolink and its habitat, Rodrigues says the MNR’s recovery plan for the bobolink says the turbines themselves are a problem.

“When situated in grassland habitats, wind turbines can also be a source of Bobolink mortality… presumably in part because of its aerial displays” says the MNR’s recovery plan citing three other studies, including one done by Stantec in 2011.

“A recent compilation of mortality data from wind turbines in Ontario reported … Bobolink was among the top 10 species in terms of overall kills (due to wind turbines).”

Rodrigues adds the bobolink population declines “50 per cent” near wind turbines.”

The MNR is working to slow the rate of death of the songbird – hoping to limit it to just one percent of the bobolink population.

“Since this bird was discussed in more detail in the Stantec report, our group will continue to do more research on this bird and its habitat,” Rodrigues told Plympton-Wyoming council recently.  “As well we will continue to do more research on the other 81 species listed under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act as part of our process in our efforts to seek transparency, fairness and the truth that our upper levels of government seek to ignore.”

And she says the bobolink “may very well be” the Blanding Turtle of the Cedar Point project – WAIT’s best hope to halt the Suncor project which has yet to receive final approval from the Ministry of the Environment.