Prince Edward County and their Super Turtles: Renewable Energy Approval overturned
The headline in the Belleville Intelligencer of July 5, 2013 read “Turtles win wind battle”!
Apparently turtles (particularly those of the “Blandings” variety) not only outrace rabbits but they can sway power over lawyers in quasi-judicial positions as the results of the Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) for the Ostrander Point Wind Energy LP recently disclosed. Despite over 40 days of hearings with numerous witnesses called on behalf of the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists (PECFN) and the Alliance to Protect Prince Edward County (APPEC) it was the Blandings turtle that was the hero to the numerous Prince Edward County residents who opposed the erection of 9 industrial wind turbines at the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources owned land known as Ostrander Point.
The costs, measured as; harm to humans that might be affected by industrial wind turbines or the rare alvar vegetation didn’t play into the decision by the two ERT panel members! As it turned out it was the slow moving endangered Blandings turtle that swayed them to make the first ever ruling against the Ministry that handed out the REA. A huge win, after numerous losses that places the “Blandings” turtle on a pedestal akin to a war hero or an Olympic gold medalist in the 100 meter dash.
The win by this slow moving reptile didn’t come cheaply as the efforts by both PECFN and APPEC to raise the funds necessary to sponsor their appeal are measured in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and the appeal to complete their fundraising activities continue, as both try valiantly to close the gap to ensure that Eric Gillespie and his legal team’s costs are covered.
The other side; Gilead Power was represented by the legal team of one of Canada’s biggest law firms; McCarthy Tetrault and supported by the taxpayer financed legal team from the Ministry. Attending the hearings usually saw a minimum of two lawyers from both McCarthy Tetrault and two from the Ministry. On several days the McCarthy Tetrault group would number three so the costs to the REA holder were considerably more. Having personally had experience in dealing with some of the big “Bay Street” law firms, this writer would estimate that Gilead were on the hook for a mimimum of $1,000 per hour for at least 8 hours in each of those 40 or so days. The focus of the Gilead counsel was principally in attempting to make the PECFN and APPEC experts and common folk (those testifying about health issues caused by wind turbine noise) look bad. They didn’t and the ERT panel generally found all of the PECFN and APPEC witnesses very credible. In the end however, the hero was the Blandings turtle who came through and won the race.
The cost to the taxpayers over the 40 days was nominal as a percentage of the Ministry budget, but as a casual observer I was distracted each day I attended the hearing in Demorestville, by the fact that the lawyers for the Ministry arrived in their “hybrid” cars with the Ministry logo on the side and by the large SUV that the Gilead people would sometimes arrive in. Were the “hybrids” meant to sway the tribunal members proving that the Ministry lawyers were truly “green”? I never saw the cars that the McCarthy Tetrault people drove but there was always at least one BMW parked near the community centre which may have been their mode of transport.
Putting aside the mode of transport, it is interesting to speculate on the cost of legal fees that Gilead will be stuck with. Those fees will be tax deductible by Gilead whereas the legal fees paid for by APPEC and PECFN were all donated after tax dollars made by locals and many others throughout the province who saw the Ostrander Point project as the “line in the sand” for industrial wind turbine developments and supported the efforts of APPEC and PECFN by donating their hard earned money.
Examining the probable cost to Gilead and their partners (including OPSEU as a part owner), this writer’s estimated cost of their defence of the appeal was that it was close to the $1 million mark, considering; three lawyers attended the hearing for many days, the travel time to Demorestville, preparation time, research, expert witnesses, etc. The cost of the taxpayer paid legal team, was probably in the $100,000 range and for the tribunal members a similar cost would probably apply.
In total the overall cost of the tribunal hearing was in all likelihood, in the $1.5/$2 million range whereas the cost, had the REA been denied; would have been zero (0). Whatever possessed the MNR and the Environment Ministry to allow this to proceed is way beyond the scope or ability of this writer to either determine or comprehend, but, perhaps the reasoning might be found in a deleted e-mail. Anything beyond that would be pure speculation on the part of this writer.
The lesson, from the results of the foregoing is that no one on this planet should discount the value of a life, even those of an endangered reptile, and those who should give that lesson considerable thought are the bureaucrats entrusted to protect those lives. The dollar costs described above to the potentially injured parties would never have occurred without the Ontario Power Authority first granting the contract for the marginal electricity that the 22.5 megawatts may have provided. Power that would present itself to the grid 80% of the time when it is not needed. [refer: Fraser Report; Environmental and Economic Consequences of Ontario’s Green Energy Act] Why the OPA granted the contract to Gilead in the first place is unknown and why Gilead were granted an REA is another unknown. If and when, a judicial enquiry is ever held in respect to the GEA, the reasons behind those approvals and the many others, in my opinion, may well open some eyes on how the regulatory system was one sided while attempting to give the appearance that the appellants had rights.
The Green Energy and Economy Act is truly the rabid (not rabbit) act that is working to destroy what has taken Ontarians decades to achieve! We should all be thankful that Ostrander Point has been blessed with the Blandings turtle who, so far, is the only real winner.
July 11, 2013