Wind project threatens birds, green group warns

An internationally recognized "Important Bird Area" is being threatened by a wind power development, a Canadian conservation group alleges.
A flock of ducks fly in front of a wind turbine in a field near Port Bruce, Ont., on the Lake Erie north shore in 2007. Nature Canada says an internationally recognized 'Important Bird Area' is being threatened by a similar wind power development in Prince Edward County. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

An internationally recognized "Important Bird Area" is being threatened by an Ontario wind power development, a Canadian conservation group alleges.

Gilead Power Corporation hopes to build a nine-turbine wind farm on the south shore of Prince Edward County, a huge peninsula that juts into eastern Lake Ontario.

Nature Canada worries the project will kill untold numbers of migratory birds because it is right next to a National Wildlife Area used by hundreds of thousands birds as a stopover point on their yearly journeys north and south.

"It's like a highway. Sort of like the equivalent of the Trans-Canada or the 401," said Ted Cheskey, manager of Nature Canada's bird conservation programs.

Cheskey says that it is unusual for his organization to get involved in a fight like this because they are a national group and this looks on the surface like a local issue. But he felt they had no choice because this project is located in an "important bird area" (IBA). IBAs are a designation given by Birdlife International, a global partnership of conservation organizations that works to protect birds and their habitats.

Allowing a wind power project on the south shore of Prince Edward County would set a bad precedent, Chesky said.

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Gilead Power's Ostrander Point project has split the community of Prince Edward County down the middle. Those in favour of the turbines say wind power is one of the best ways to combat climate change and a few dead birds is a small price to pay. Those against the project agree with the arguments about climate change, but say the location is all wrong.

"It's just open season. Wherever a turbine corporation wants to go, they go. And no one is telling them, 'not there. Go over here'," said Mirna Wood, spokeswoman for the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists.

But Gilead doesn't agree. The company has conducted four years of environmental studies examining the migration patterns of birds flying through the county. The company points out that the south shore of the county is 27 kilometres long and their project will take up less than one per cent of that length.

"The objective of this project is not to have any impacts to the birds at all. But in the event that it's necessary, Gilead's committed to shutting the turbines down during the migratory period," says Mike Lord, Gilead's vice-president in charge of project development.

The wind power company's renewable energy application is currently under review by Ontario's environment ministry. If it is accepted, Gilead hopes to begin construction in October of 2012 and be up and running by April 2013.


Max Paris

Senior Producer

Max Paris is a senior producer with CBC News based in Ottawa.