Ottawa

Ontario NDP calls on auditor general to review wind farm cancellation

The provincial NDP wants Ontario's auditor general to review the axing of the Nation Rise Wind Farm and determine whether there are any costs associated with cancelling the project so late in its development. 

Nation Rise Wind Farm cancelled in December over bat population concerns

NDP MPP Peter Tabuns has written to Ontario's auditor general about the sudden cancellation last month of the Nation Rise wind farm near Ottawa. (CBC)

The provincial NDP wants Ontario's auditor general to review both the axing of the Nation Rise Wind Farm and any costs associated with cancelling the project so late in its development. 

The wind farm, located 40 kilometres southeast of Ottawa in the Township of North Stormont, had been approved in 2016 and was designed to provide 100 megawatts of zero-emissions electricity to the Ontario grid. 

It was halted last month, shocking many. 

"I request that your office ... conduct a review of the decision-making process that led to the revocation of the project's approvals, including any scientific evidence the minister used to justify his government's decision to scrap this renewable-energy project," wrote Toronto–Danforth MPP Peter Tabuns, the NDP's critic for energy and climate change.

Project approved in 2016

Before it was given the go-ahead, the 29-turbine farm went through a contentious environmental review process that generated significant opposition.

Following its approval, Margaret Benke of the Concerned Citizens of North Stormont appealed the project to Jeff Yurek, the province's minister for environment, conservation and parks. 

Her organization had raised concerns to the Environmental Review Tribunal that the project posed a risk to humans, animals and groundwater, but was told the evidence wasn't strong enough to reverse its approval.

When Yurek announced the cancellation in December 2019, he cited threats to local populations of little brown, big brown and hoary bats — a threat that never appeared on the original environment review or Benke's appeal.

The wind farm had been approved in 2016 and was designed to provide 100 megawatts of zero-emissions electricity to the Ontario grid. (Patrick Pleul/dpa via Associated Press)

In his letter to Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk, Tabuns wrote that the ERT and the ministry "both determined the project posed no risk to the bat population."

"In fact, those appealing the wind farm's approval offered no expert testimony at the tribunal that the bat population is at risk," Tabuns wrote. "Nor was the matter raised in the appeal submission to the minister."

Regardless, construction on the project, which started in May, was halted immediately.

According to EDP Renewables (EDPR), the company behind the project, six wind turbines had been erected and 11 others were in the process of going up.

Tabuns said those wind turbines will now be torn down. 

'No expert testimony or evidence'

EDPR spokesperson Kenneth Little said the company had only been made aware of Tabuns' letter Friday afternoon and could not comment on any potential investigation.

Little did say the company had met all regulatory requirements prior to construction.

"There was no expert testimony or evidence presented at the tribunal or to the minister that would provide a reasonable rationale for the minister's decision, and his decision contradicts scientific and expert findings," Little said in an email.

"Furthermore, the [cancellation] appears to exceed the minister's legal jurisdiction under the Environmental Protection Act."

Legal challenge launched

EDPR has now launched a legal challenge, asking the province's divisional court to set the government's decision aside.

"As the matter is now under judicial consideration we will not comment further," wrote Andrew Buttigieg, press secretary for environment, conservation and parks, in an email Friday.

The office of Ontario's auditor general also said Friday it would not comment.

The cancellation is the latest example of the Progressive Conservatives halting renewable energy projects, and the compensation costs associated with reversing 750 projects agreed to by the previous Liberal government have been pegged at $231 million this fiscal year.   

The cost of cancelling the White Pines wind energy project in Prince Edward County — which was "not as far along in development" as Nation Rise — will be at least $100 million, Tabuns wrote.

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