Ontario's environment minister is cancelling a wind farm near Ottawa over concerns that it may negatively impact bat populations, prompting the renewable energy company in charge of the $200-million project to consider legal action.
In a letter sent Dec. 4, Environment, Conservation and Parks Minister Jeff Yurek announced his decision to revoke approval for the Nation Rise Wind Farm, a 29-turbine project in the Township of North Stormont that was meant to provide 100 megawatts of zero-emissions electricity to the Ontario grid.
Yurek said the project is likely to cause "serious and irreversible harm" to populations of little brown, big brown and hoary bats due to the risk of the bats being hit by turbine blades.
The decision means all construction activities — which had been underway since May 2019 — must cease immediately.
It's the latest example of the Progressive Conservative government cancelling renewable energy projects agreed to by the previous Liberal government. The cost of cancelling over 750 green energy projects has been pegged at $231 million.
Ryan Brown, vice president of EDP Renewables, the company building the Nation Rise farm, said he was "shocked" upon hearing of the reversal.
"This is a project that had a permit [and] was advanced in the construction process," Brown said. "We're analyzing all sorts of legal possibilities and plan to respond strongly."
Brown said there were 200 construction workers on site just last week and that 16 of the 29 turbines are in some state of completion.
In a written statement, EDP Resources said the project would lead to 10 permanent jobs upon its completion and would inject more than $45 million over the next 30 years into the local economy in the form of municipal taxes and payments to landowners.
Project faced community opposition
The Nation Rise project was approved in 2016 after a contentious environmental review process that generated significant opposition from many members of the township, including the local council, which declared itself an "unwilling host."
Margaret Benke of Concerned Citizens of North Stormont, a community group opposed to the project, led the charge. Benke and others presented evidence to the province's Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) arguing the wind farm project would cause harm to humans, animals and groundwater in the area, but the tribunal ruled that the evidence was not strong enough to cancel the project.
Following the 2016 approval, Benke filed an appeal to Yurek, who has the authority to overrule the tribunal. This appeal ultimately prompted the minister's decision.
"We've been fighting this battle for more than four-and-a-half years," Benke said Tuesday. "I respect the minister's decision and feel that it was well founded."
Decision a 'political move,' says exec
But Brown called the decision a "political move," saying there was no evidence presented about bats during the environmental review and that bats were not even a part of Benke's original appeal.
"The minister, seven months into that appeal, raised this on his own without additional expert evidence," said Brown. "The minister has gone outside his authority to challenge the ERT decision and then repeal our [permit]."
Brown said the decision could have a chilling effect on investment in the renewable energy industry.
A spokesperson for the environment minister said in an email the government is committed to ensuring wind turbine facilities operate in a way that protect human health and the environment.
North Stormont Mayor Jim Wert said he's surprised the decision to cancel was made so far into the construction process.
"We're well into this project and there's major implications for everybody at this time," Wert said. "In all honesty, there are countless questions and very few answers at this stage and we're just waiting to see where we're at."