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Ontario revokes permit for wind project already under construction

Ontario's environment minister pulled the plug on a 100-MW wind energy project under construction near Ottawa, citing the possibility of "irreversible harm" to endangered bat populations in the region.

In a decision announced Dec. 9, Ontario Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks Jeff Yurek sided with a regional environmental group in halting construction of the Nation Rise facility. The group had appealed the project's 2016 approval. Yurek "concluded that it was in the public interest and a precaution to protect the environment to revoke approval for the power project," according to a statement announcing the decision from the Concerned Citizens of North Stormont, which appealed the original approval of the plant.

EDP Renewables Canada Ltd., part-owner of Nation Rise, said it is considering legal action following the decision.

"This unprecedented decision means the renewable energy approval that was issued by the minister's own staff, defended by ministry legal counsel and subsequently ratified by the Environmental Review Tribunal is no longer in effect," EDP Renewables said in a Dec. 9 statement. "As a result, EDP Renewables has been forced to halt all construction activities."

New York-based investment firm Axium Infrastructure US Inc. acquired a 75% stake in Nation Rise from EDP - Energias de Portugal SA's Canadian subsidiary in May with an option to pick up another 5% interest in the project once it became operational. Montreal-based Axium Infrastructure Inc. runs the Canadian portion of Axium's business. Construction of the 29-turbine wind farm began in May, and it was expected to begin commercial operation in early 2020. The project was part of the Ontario grid operator's procurement program that awarded contracts to renewables operators. When the right-leaning government of Premier Doug Ford replaced the Liberal government in 2018, it canceled several contracts that had been awarded under the program.

"There was no expert testimony or evidence presented at the tribunal or to the minister that would provide a reasonable rationale for the minister's decision," EDP Renewables said. "Instead, the minister based his decision upon an issue the appellant did not raise even once in its appeal submission."

The Concerned Citizens of North Stormont applauded the government's decision, claiming "wildlife and human health will be protected from the harmful effects of wind turbines." The group's statement said the plant was underpinned by a 20-year, C$400 million contract with the Independent Electricity System Operator.

"The potential for harm to wildlife was considered in the context of the contribution to Ontario's electricity supply in Ontario, which would be minimal," the group said in its statement.

Yurek was attending the 25th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations' Framework Convention on Climate Change in Madrid on Dec. 9. The ministry did not issue a statement on the revocation of the permit to build Nation Rise, and Yurek's official Twitter feed did not mention the cancellation.