The Saskatchewan government has rejected a proposed wind turbine project near a lake popular with migratory birds.
The Ministry of Environment announced Monday it has denied Algonquin Power’s idea to build a 177-megawatt wind farm with a possible 79 turbines near Chaplin Lake, some 150 kilometres west of Regina.
Environment Minister Scott Moe said the project was simply too large and too close to a recognized migratory bird flight path.
Algonquin’s vice-president of investor relations Ian Tharp said the company put the project forward after a thorough environmental review, and “went to great lengths both to engage with the community and the different interest groups there.”
It wasn’t enough.
Nearly 140 people and organizations submitted comments on the project: All but one were in support of wind energy but concerned about Algonquin’s choice of locale.
“The concerns in this case that the public have raised have been matched quite closely with the concerns that the scientific reviewers raised as well,” said Moe.
Environmentalists praised the decision.
“It’s a wonderful thing,” said Trevor Herriot, co-chair of Public Pastures – Public Interest.
He noted how few applications that go through the government’s environmental impact assessment process are denied.
Jordan Ignatiuk, executive director of Nature Saskatchewan, was “maybe a little bit” surprised by the denial “because I think you go through a lot of times of fighting the government and not seeing things change and this was one that did.”
He said approving this project would have set a bad example for future wind turbine proposals.
The provincial government has a goal of 50 per cent renewable energy sources by 2030, a large proportion of which the government envisions coming from wind, Moe said.
Also Monday, the government released siting guidelines for wind energy projects to reduce effects on wildlife.
The document details areas to avoid, like national or provincial parks, certain rivers and key bird areas; suggests ways to pre-screen locations for environmental risks; and recommends design elements to minimize effects on wildlife.
Wind turbines, the guidelines say, can cause bird and bat deaths by collisions, disturb or deter animals through noise and light, and lead to habitat loss.
“We’re hoping that Saskatchewan maybe can be a leader in this, in choosing the right places for siting wind energy projects so they don’t have the wrong impacts on the environment or on the needs of people who are living in the area,” said Herriot.
Not all wind turbine projects have to go through the environmental assessment impact process, although all are encouraged to follow the siting guidelines.
“We don’t necessarily like to be the project that wasn’t approved, but hopefully we can go forward with these new siting guidelines and win the day with our next project,” said Tharp.
Algonquin is already working with SaskPower on alternate locations.
The government is not currently reviewing any other wind turbine projects.