A government decision to cancel an eastern Ontario wind farm to save local bat species was based on faulty science and could cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, the province’s official opposition said Friday.
A pair of New Democrat legislators said the Progressive Conservatives have made a mistake by scrapping the Nation Rise Wind Farm near Cornwall, Ont. and are using concerns about the bat population as an excuse to halt the green energy development.
NDP environment critic Ian Arthur and climate change critic Peter Tabuns said the party consulted with a British Columbia-based scientist specializing in migratory bats, adding her findings raise concerns about the rationale for cancelling the project and the implications for future government decisions.
“The unfortunate thing is when you try to use flimsy scientific evidence in this manner you undermine the credibility of scientific work that is being done all across Canada and the world,” Arthur said at a news conference.
He and Tabuns also questioned how much the Nation Rise cancellation could wind up costing taxpayers.
Earlier this month, Environment Minister Jeff Yurek revoked the project’s approval, citing the risk to three bat species.
His decision came despite a ruling from the province’s Environmental Review Tribunal that determined the risk the project posed to the bat population was negligible.
Nation Rise has launched a legal challenge of the government decision, and is asking the Ontario divisional court to set it aside.
A spokesman for Yurek said Friday the government cannot comment on the wind farm matter because of the pending court challenge.
The NDP’s critiques of the project were based on the findings of Erin Baerwald, a conservation biologist specializing in migratory bats at the University of Northern British Columbia, who examined at the work done by Nation Rise and disagrees with the government’s decision.
She said the company offered to shut down its turbines during low wind speeds and autumn migrations, a move she said would reduce bat fatalities by more than 50 per cent.
“They did all the right things,” she said of the company’s work. “They went above and beyond what the Ontario (government) requires for bat surveys. They proactively and voluntarily agreed to implement some pretty strict mitigation strategies.”
Tabuns said the Nation Rise project cancellation marks the government’s latest instance of scrapping green energy deals at a steep financial cost to taxpayers.
Last month, the NDP revealed that the province had spent $231 million to cancel more than 750 renewable energy contracts shortly after winning the 2018 election.
“(Premier) Doug Ford needs to come clean about how much his destruction of wind farms is costing the people of Ontario,” he said. “They’re completely wasting money.”
The Ford government has blamed the previous Liberals for signing the bad energy deals while the province had an oversupply of electricity.
It has also said that by cancelling contracts last July it would ultimately save ratepayers $790 million – a figure industry officials have disputed.
At the time, the government also said it would introduce legislation that would protect hydro consumers from any costs incurred from the cancellation.
It has since acknowledged it will have to pay some companies to cancel the deals and set aside $231 million to reach agreements with those firms.