The 100-megawatt Nation Rise Wind Farm near Cornwall, Ontario is back on the boards, following a court decision that quashed the last-minute decision by Environment Minister Jeff Yurek to cancel the project in December.
By the time Yurek issued his order against EDP Renewables Canada Ltd., many of the 29 turbines at Nation Rise were fully or partially built, the Ottawa Citizen writes. The Doug Ford government claimed it was halting construction out of a newfound concern for endangered populations of big brown bats, hoary bats, and little brown bats, even though a 2018 environmental review tribunal ruled the risks to those species negligible.
But “in a ruling released Wednesday, a panel of three judges at Ontario Superior Court did not buy the explanation, saying the evidence does not support the minister’s conclusion of ‘serious and irreversible’ harm to the three species of bats.”
Last month, the Cornwall Standard-Freeholder reported EDP Renewables was paying out C$100,000 per week just to maintain the segments of the wind farm that had already been built when Yurek’s order took effect.
“This is a case about the eleventh-hour cancellation of a several-hundred-million-dollar project,” said Nation Rise attorney John Terry. “The project was cancelled by the minister when more than two-thirds of the towers were partially or fully in place and all the foundations were in place.” Provincial lawyers maintained the bat populations were at risk, and that Yurek was within his rights to issue the decision.
“The decision at question is executive, it’s made by the minister, and it represents his supervisory authority over the ministry,” said attorney Andy Jen. “The court should not make any direction regarding the administrative steps on how the minister should be reconsidering.”
While the bats will in all likelihood be okay, “there had been spirited opposition to the project, with concern expressed over noise, potential health problems, and damage to the water table from turbines roughly 200 metres tall,” the Citizen says. “The Township of North Stormont had twice voted against being a ‘willing host’ for the project and the incoming government of Doug Ford had quickly cancelled the enabling Green Energy Act. But the project, after a years-long process, had already been approved.”
When it sought judicial review of Yurek’s decision, EDP Renewables contended the cancellation relied on “hearsay”, ignored best-in-class measures to protect bats from harm, and failed to 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 Standard-Freeholder wrote at the time. “The fact Premier Doug Ford campaigned against renewable energy projects, then repealed the Green Energy Act and cancelled more than 750 contracts, is mentioned.”
Toronto-based Environmental Defence called the latest court decision a “victory for the rule of law and the environment,” noting that expert testimony had indicated no risk to endangered bats or the surrounding environment in the area around Crysler and Finch, where the project is being built.
“Energy decisions are crucial in building a healthy, climate-safe future,” said Sarah Buchanan, manager of ED’s clean economy program. “These decisions must be based on evidence, not bias, and we’re glad to see this upheld in a court of law. It’s unfortunate that this reversal occurred after over 200 workers were laid off from the project in December 2019, and after hundreds of millions of public dollars were spent to cancel many other renewable energy projects in Ontario. These public funds could be put to much better use, particularly in our current state of emergency.”