|the 79 turbines planned will be directly north of Chaplin Lake, |
one of Canada's Eight Hemispheric Shorebird Reserves
The Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment received an unprecedented number of submissions, 137 in fact, expressing concern and alarm over the proposed wind energy project north of Chaplin Lake, including strong statements from the Saskatchewan Environmental Society, Nature Canada, and other conservation groups.
Regardless, all indications are that the Chaplin project will be going through more or less as planned, with 79 turbines 4.5 kms straight north of the lake. Even more disturbing, 24 of them will destroy most of 62 hectares of native grassland. The 4.5 km setback from the wetland is right on the borderline of recommended setbacks and may still prove to be a source of embarrassment for the Province if a great many bats and birds are killed by the turbines, but for now the decision to site 24 turbines on native prairie is the biggest single threat posed by this wind energy development.
Besides the footprint of each turbine and its gravel pad, there will be roads with a lot of truck traffic going to and from the installations. Though many transmission lines will be buried (which will also introduce weeds and fragment the native grassland), there will be some aerial transmission lines along roads. With species at risk such as Ferruginous Hawks nesting and hunting ground squirrels in the area, all of these forces degrading the habitat should be enough to force any responsible government to move the 24 turbines off of native prairie.
Ferruginous hawks depend on the grasslands north of Chaplin Lake
(image courtesy of Hamilton Greenwood)
Instead, we are expecting that any day now Minister Herb Cox will announce his approval of the project more or less as is.
His own people, biologists and others inside his ministry, have no doubt advised him to move the project off of native grassland but their advice is falling on deaf ears. Within the political limits imposed by the Minister--i.e. the project must be approved and no turbines will be moved off native grass or farther away from the flight paths of Chaplin Lake's teeming bird life--public servants in the ministry have very likely been scrambling to come up with some way to reduce the harm of this egregiously bad choice for siting a major wind project.
Thanks to their hard work, there will likely be some mitigation and monitoring measures announced with the approval decision. Unfortunately, as the ministry's biologists know better than anyone, mitigation and monitoring after you have sacrificed the habitat is never enough to make up for the disruption and degradation caused by such a development.
The proponent, Algonquin, will want to hire its own consulting engineering company to do the monitoring--someone like Stantec--because they know that a consultant they hire is unlikely to find any data that would require them to shut down or move turbines. That kind of self-regulation, with poorly designed data-gathering models and often unqualified researchers, is unacceptable in a development this controversial.
If the province really wants to show us that they are doing their best to protect the bats and birds, and finding ways to site wind projects properly, they should make the proponent secure truly independent monitoring by researchers from a university or some other third party organization.
If the Chaplin project goes ahead--and all indications are that it will--the Province needs to ensure that real scientists with no connection to the proponent are engaged to design, conduct and oversee studies that are legitimately aimed at figuring out the impacts of putting up so many turbines on native grassland and north of a world class shorebird reserve.