Anne Murray: NaiKun offshore wind farm presents environmental dilemma

By Anne Murray

It’s a dilemma that forward-thinking, environmentally conscious people do not want to face: Will moving toward carbon-free energy sources mean disrupting bird migration routes and having a negative impact on wildlife populations?

This weekend sees the July 12 deadline for public comments on the massive NaiKun wind farm proposed for Hecate Strait. The initial phase proposes 110 wind turbines spaced over 100 square kilometres generating 396 megawatts—the first offshore wind farm in British Columbia, located in shallow water immediately east of Naikoon Provincial Park in Haida Gwaii. The project is welcomed by some northerners as an opportunity for employment and a big step forward in sustainable energy generation. After all, wind is something that Hecate Strait does rather well.

The problem arises, however, that this exact location, the shallow water around McIntyre Beach and Rose Spit, is a designated important bird area under the BirdLife International program that lists critical sites for bird populations in over 200 countries worldwide. Millions of migrating birds pass through this IBA every spring and fall, including shorebirds, diving and dabbling ducks, geese, sea birds, loons, and grebes. The footprint of the proposed NaiKun wind farm, close to shore in shallow water, is a prime feeding and staging area for many species of birds, including large numbers of sea ducks, such as black and white-winged scoter. According to recent Environment Canada telemetry studies, large numbers of black scoter stage for up to a month in this area during spring migration (curiously, the Environment Canada data was not available to be included in the environmental assessment report).

The presence of the documented important bird area, and three others affected by the extended infrastructure of the wind farm, places the NaiKun proposal in the highest Category 4 level of sensitivity, according to Environment Canada’s guidelines for wind farms, since it includes a very large number of turbines located in or near an important bird area. Category 4 sensitivity indicates that an alternate site should be considered. Similarly, BirdLife International’s position on wind farms recommends complete avoidance of bird migration hot spots and important bird areas under the precautionary principle.

Disturbance to birds is not limited to the risk of mortality and injury from rotating turbines. Studies in Europe show that birds often fly around the array of turbines, moving away from previous feeding areas or flight paths. The constant disturbance and/or lack of access to prime feeding areas can result in diminished fitness, lower breeding success, or other stresses on the population, particularly for birds in the middle of their long migrations.

As well as birds, the marine waters of Hecate Strait are rich in whales, sea lions, porpoises, fish, and crabs. These are wildlife with high economic as well as ecological value. The environmental assessment lists 35 species of marine mammals that potentially exist in the area, including four populations of killer whales (orcas), but it does not mention that whale watching generates $108 million a year in B.C. (according to a 2003 Fisheries and Oceans Canada fact sheet) and that it has been a significant source of visitor growth in the last two decades, providing employment and foreign currency for many coastal towns. Similarly, the fishing industry is a source of valuable employment and dollars for many northerners. Crab and sablefish fishers have been among those writing in with critiques of the studies and concerns over the location.

The Haida people and other islanders are faced with some difficult choices in deciding whether to accept this large wind farm in their offshore waters. It is essentially a giant experiment in action. Although the proponents claim that no significant effects on marine mammals, birds, or marine ecology have been identified, they admit: “Continued monitoring during and after construction of the proposed wind farm will add much to the existing knowledge base, providing ecological information essential to advancing our understanding of marine mammals and associated environmental interactions of large offshore developments.”

There is a strong case for the precautionary principle and a reconsideration of location for our first offshore wind farm. You can comment on the environmental assessment until midnight on Sunday (July 12) by visiting the Environmental Assessment Office’s Web site and looking at the documentation for the NaiKun Offshore Wind Energy Project.

Anne Murray is conservation chair for B.C. Nature, and author of A Nature Guide to Boundary Bay and Tracing Our Past: A Heritage Guide to Boundary Bay, both published by Nature Guides B.C.

Comments

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8 Comments

seth

Jul 9, 2009 at 10:42pm

110 wind turbines spaced over 100 square kilometres generating 396 megawatts at the usual 20% wind capacity factor gives us about 700 gigawatt hours per annum of almost zero value intermittent power at an extreme environmental cost.

For the same cost to the taxpayer Burrard thermal could be replaced with 3 gigawatts of nuclear power providing 30000 gwh's per annum of high value always on baseload power at a very small environmental cost, right in Vancouver where it is needed..

Forty times the power at the same price with no environmental effects. You choose.
seth

Rufus

Jul 10, 2009 at 11:04am

I'd be interested in seeing where your numbers come from for that nuclear option. Same cost to taxpayer? Show me. I'd also be curious why you think a nuclear power plant in the Vancouver area has even the remotest chance of happening under any circumstance.
I'm not sure why this is called "an extreme environmental cost". The turbines are quite widely spaced (in contrast to some of the pictures on the website) allowing lots of room for birds, fish, mammals, people, etc. Is this really more damaging than other options? How many RoR hydro installations are needed to provide this capacity? How many land-based wind farms (and power corridors)? No environmental cost there?
Even intermittent power as a value. Once hooked up to the grid, it's available for use or sale to a large part of North America, reducing the need for gas or coal-fired power. This is also the Hecate straight, in the highest wind availability category there is. "Intermittent" has a whole new meaning compared to most of the rest of the province. Any naturally -sourced power has to be managed due to varying resource levels as well, so seasonality actually can balance low-water times (for example) with hydro and increase riverflows (an environmental benefit).

Donna

Jul 11, 2009 at 1:32pm

Biodiversity is our most valuable but least appreciated resource
Position
Wind farms in ecologically sensitive areas are not a sustainable use of local, regional or global resources. The history and scale of environmental destruction from irresponsible planning and use of ecosystems must stop. Specifically the NaiKun wind farm proposed for Hecate Strait to install 110 wind turbines spaced over 100 square kilometres (just to start with) in an ecosystem that is regarded as an area of global significance and the importance of which is little understood must not be permitted.

Background
The current extinction crisis facing the world's wildlife lists more than 44,000 species under threat.
The main causes for extinction are:
Ӣ Habitat destruction and habitat fragmentation
Ӣ Overkill
Ӣ Introduced species
Ӣ Secondary extensions
The scientific truthing of impacts and accompanying benefits of the Naikun Wind Energy Project are not supported by the rigorous scientific investigation and protocols necessary for the suggested positive environmental, social and economic outcomes. To permit this project without proper investigation is a direct breach of our commitment to the Convention on Biological Diversity and a misapprobation of Canada’s responsibility to uphold the inalienable rights of all members of the human family as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Canada is one of the founding Nations of UNESCO and a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to the Convention on Biological Diversity.
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) entered into force on 29 December 1993. It has 3 main objectives for Sustaining Life on Earth:
1. To conserve biological diversity
2. To use biological diversity in a sustainable fashion
3. To share the benefits of biological diversity fairly and equitably
In April 2002, the Parties to the Convention committed themselves to:
achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss
at the global, regional and national level in order to benefit all life on Earth
This target was subsequently endorsed by the World Summit on Sustainable Development and the United Nations General Assembly and was incorporated as a new target under the Millennium Development Goals.
The Conference of the Parties has considered the 2010 Target during deliberations on the Convention's Strategic Plan during its 6th, 7th 8th and 9th meetings. At COP 9, the Parties further considered the evaluation of the Strategic Plan beyond 2010 in it's Decision IX/9.
As we approach the ”˜2010 International Year of Biodiversity’ when our commitment to the Convention on Biological Diversity will be reviewed, we have fallen far short in our responsibility to contributing to Sustaining Life on Earth.

Recommendations
That the perfunctory review put forward and arbitrary cut-off date for public, and pre-project scientific input, for the Naikun wind farm proposal be opposed; that the proponents and governments involved in this project move to subject this proposal and untested assumptions to:
The IUCN International Union for Conservation of Nature
Classification of Direct Threats to Biodiversity
Classification of Conservation Actions for Biodiversity
and that this project be exposed to global interrogation and submitted as a (to date) well-meaning but wholly inadequate attempt to stem the tide of environmental suicide currently underway across the globe.

Reader via e-mail

Jul 20, 2009 at 12:06pm

While I respect the opinions expressed in Anne Murray’s recent commentary (NaiKun offshore wind farm presents environmental dilemma, July 9), I want to correct some of the statements that she made.

First, Ms. Murray suggests that the NaiKun Wind project will be located in an “important bird area”. In fact, the closest turbine will be 8 kilometres from the shore of Haida Gwaii, significantly to the south of the area to which she refers. Moreover, none of the bird areas identified in the source she referenced overlaps with the wind farm area.

Second, although Ms. Murray acknowledges that collisions are not a concern because birds alter their flight paths to avoid turbines, she suggests that this will result in a loss of breeding and feeding areas. She fails to mention that experience in other jurisdictions found birds to be highly adaptive, and over time, return to the area. NaiKun’s wind turbines will be spaced further apart than current European projects, enhancing marine birds’ ability to forage for food within the project area.

Internationally respected environmental and conservation groups such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund and Friends of the Earth, are urging governments to consider wind energy as a means of reducing the effects of climate change, which itself threatens many species with extinction.

NaiKun Wind respects that our wind farm lies in an active bird migration area. We have worked extensively with environmental specialists, independent scientists, and federal and provincial environmental agencies in developing our environmental assessment of the project. Our application demonstrates our commitment to designing the project so it respects the environment and values of the communities in which we will operate as it produces clean, made-in B.C. electricity that provides lasting environmental benefits. See www.naikun.ca for more information.

Matt Burns,
Vice-President, NaiKun Wind
Vancouver

K

Nov 24, 2009 at 12:23pm

I recently witnessed an incredible show of whale activity in this area and I feel there is no possible way that this wind farm idea should go ahead here. How could this group possibly know the needs of whales in this area? I am sue that whales have a cycle that is not only different from year to year, but also decade to daecad and changes as per their needs from time to time as well, and depending on climate change too. The wind farm is crazy stuff! If it goes ahead it will be because animals, including endangered species are not being acknowledged with integrity, or else those who have the "power" do not care about the possibility of new extinctions which may very well be the case. Human are number 1!

Gary

Dec 28, 2009 at 2:53pm

At first I thought it was a joke as the singer Ann Murray one time commented on how she didn't want to see wind turbines when she was out golfing. Her view when out in public wacking her balls being more important than the survival of the planet

colin Richardson

Jun 1, 2015 at 2:25pm

The Haida have spoke loud and clear, the vote on this topic was 570 in opposition to the project and 150 in support!