Yurek Cancels Eastern Ontario Wind Farm Despite Looming Fears for Electricity Supply
The Doug Ford government’s abrupt cancellation of an eastern Ontario wind power development is running headlong into concerns about the reliability of the province’s electricity supply over the next two to four years.
In a December 4 letter shutting down construction of EDP Renewables’ Nation Rise Wind Farm in North Stormont, Ontario, Environment Minister Jeff Yurek claimed the province won’t need the electricity the 29-turbine, 100-megawatt project would have produced, National Observer wrote. Separately, Wind Concerns Ontario spokesperson Jane Wilson commented that wind farms are unnecessary in a province that gets most of its electricity from renewable hydropower.
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In the real world, however, Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) reports that Ontario’s installed electricity capacity stands at 24% hydro, 27% gas or oil, and 35% nuclear generation, though a sharp-eyed Mix reader (see comment below) points out that oil and gas meet only 4% of actual electricity demand.
More immediately concerning, the IESO’s latest quarterly Reliability Outlook Report, issued December 19, indicates that “reliability concerns could arise during the summers of 2020 and 2021,” and calls for a process of “proactively managing outages” to keep a healthy reserve of electricity on the grid. “Looking ahead over the broader five-year forecast, where greater uncertainty exists around weather and outage planning, the potential for increased reliability concerns emerges over the summers, from 2022 to 2024.”
The document warns of “periods to watch” spanning 10 weeks between June and September 2020, followed by five weeks in June 2021 and the entire June-to-September period from 2022 to 2024.
“Thanks, in part, to the province’s diverse supply mix, Ontario is in a strong position with sufficient resources to meet its needs under most circumstances, provided the majority of existing resources remain available over the 42-month horizon,” the IESO writes. But “uncertainties in electricity forecasting are compounded by time,” and “periods of increased reliability risk could emerge in the summers of 2022, 2023 and 2024, with the greatest risk in the summer of 2023.”
In its late December exclusive, Observer revealed that EDP had filed suit against Yurek’s decision, which cited concerns about protecting local bat populations. The company “must lay off the 200 employees working on Nation Rise just before the holidays and stands to lose the C$230 million in capital it has already sunk into the project,” Observer said. “The company is seeking judicial review of Yurek’s decision—essentially, asking a judge to overturn it. Not only did Yurek rely on ‘hearsay’ and ignore best-in-class measures to protect bats from harm, EDP Renewables alleges, the minister also didn’t use sound legal reasoning.”
EDP’s court filing “does not quite accuse Yurek and the Ford government of cancelling the wind farm out of hatred for renewable energy like the NDP did on Friday, but it comes pretty close,” the Cornwall Standard-Freeholder added in a follow-up two days later. “The fact Premier Doug Ford campaigned against renewable energy projects, then repealed the Green Energy Act and cancelled more than 750 contracts, is mentioned.”
The company is accusing Yurek “of making up his mind beforehand to revoke Nation Rise’s [Renewable Energy Approval]. Furthermore, that he pulled the bats concern out of thin air as justification, and then ignored the evidence –including the recommendation of his own ministry—presented to him showing his concern was unfounded,” the local paper stated. “Particularly galling to the company is that the community group that appealed to the minister after losing its case against the project at the Environment Review Tribunal, the Concerned Citizens of North Stormont (CCNS), did not even raise the issue of bats with the minister. Yurek brought up the concern on his own.”
“It wasn’t just us arguing with our own experts,” Tom LoTurco, EDP’s director of development for Eastern Canada and the United States, told Observer. “The ministry itself brought their own experts to defend the renewable energy approval,” so “it’s not like it’s us versus government.”
The process showed that Yurek “didn’t use science…he abused the process,” LoTurco added, and “to do this so late in the game is very, very damaging.”
The company cited none other than Ontario Premier Ford to back its assertion that Yurek’s decision wasn’t about bats. “If I could tear up every wind turbine in this province, I would,” Ford told a radio interviewer December 16.
“It is reasonable to conclude that the minister had decided to terminate the project before he engaged in the perfunctory analysis that is reflected in his very short letter,” EDP said in its court filing. “The duty of fairness owed to the applicants required the minister to decide the appeal before him free from any extraneous influence and with an open mind,” but “the minister did not do so.”
Yurek spokesperson Andrew Buttigieg declined to answer detailed questions on the court filing “as the matter is now under judicial consideration”.
EDP’s claim added that Yurek’s sudden decision had created potential safety risks by forcing it to quickly dismantle its construction site. Further delays could also mean the developers misses a key deadline with the IESO, thereby losing $230 million in capital and a $5-million security deposit with the grid operator.
NDP energy critic Peter Tabuns said the decision put the cost of Ford’s “war on renewable energy” into the half-billion-dollar range.
“First he ripped down the White Pines wind farm project at a cost of at least $141 million, and now he’s scrapping the Nation Rise wind farm. It’s bigger, it was further along in its construction, and it’s likely to be even more expensive to rip it down,” he told media, adding that electricity from Nation Rise would come in at 7¢ per kilowatt-hour, below the minimum price for gas at 8¢.
“Renewable energy is booming all over the world, except in Ontario now,” added NDP environment critic Ian Arthur. “This is massive amounts of investment that we’re missing out on.”
“For the premier to rip up a contract for a low-cost source of renewable energy at a cost that could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars is so fiscally irresponsible,” agreed Ontario Greens leader Mike Schreiner. “It’s appalling.”
Observer traces the story back to 2016, when the project won a competitive tender issued by the IESO. “We were procured competitively,” LoTurco said. “The price that Doug Ford (now) wants for energy, we were delivering.”
Concerned Citizens of North Stormont drew about 500 people to its Facebook page, Wind Concerns Ontario weighed in on the project. The Observer story doesn’t indicate how many of CCNS’ Facebook followers actually lived in the area.
But the project had the support of about 70 local landowners, and the tribunal testimony last January indicated “no danger to bats or any other component of the surrounding environment,” Observer writes.
The project also got a thumbs-up from University of Northern British Columbia conservation biologist and bat specialist Erin Baerwald, in a Globe and Mail opinion piece published before the holidays.
“I never thought I’d come out swinging in support of the wind energy industry, but here I am,” she wrote. Yurek “is clearly playing politics and didn’t truly have bat concerns on his mind,” with a decision that “misrepresents the science by overstating the potential damage and misidentifying the species potentially harmed by the development. He’s not actually interested in reducing harm to bats.”
While “some wind farms deserve criticism for failing to mitigate impact on bats,” Baerwald continued, “ignoring science and making false claims in order to shut down a site undermine legitimate efforts to protect bats.” And “climate change is the biggest threat to biodiversity, including bats. Transitioning away from fossil fuels is critical in our fight against climate change.”
Baerwald noted that some wind farms can harm some bat species, and “scientifically proven solutions” can protect 50 to 100% of a population. But “bats shouldn’t be used as political pawns,” she wrote. At Nation Rise, EDP Renewables “had voluntarily and proactively planned on implementing proven mitigation measures to reduce fatalities, which is something that other developers should emulate. The company did this in addition to actively trying to choose a site in a low-risk area for bats. I critically reviewed its impact assessment and it went above and beyond due diligence.”
Based on that review, Baerwald stated that “companies trying to do the right thing should not be penalized. This discourages other companies from taking on ambitious renewable energy projects, which sets back both bat conservation and our fight against climate change.”
Sarah Buchanan, clean energy program manager at Toronto-based Environmental Defence, pointed to the collision between Yurek’s newfound concern for bat conservation and his government’s decision last year to relax provincial regulations protecting species from urban sprawl. “If they were serious about protecting bats they wouldn’t have gutted the Endangered Species Act,” she told Observer.
“Concerns from local residents absolutely should be listened to, but we also have to listen to scientists,” Buchanan added. “I think there is a clear pattern emerging of dismissing scientists.”