EASTERN ONTARIO ó Ottawaís intention to study the health effects of wind turbines is good news for the opponents of such installations but might be too late to cause any turbulence for projects well into the planning process at North Gower, Brinston and elsewhere. The Harper government announced in July that Health Canada would conduct the study of people living in close proximity to wind turbines.
The $1.8-million study, which wonít report until 2014, will focus on 2,000 residences near eight- to 12-turbine installations.
Overseen by a 25-member team of experts in acoustics, health assessment and medicine, selected residents will undergo personal interviews and have physical measurements such as blood-pressure and heart rate taken. As well, noise levels both inside and outside the home will be monitored.
The announcement has prompted some members of both provincial and federal governments to call for a moratorium on all wind projects not yet completed in Ontario, pending the outcome of the two-year study. Ottawa-Carleton Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod and her federal Tory counterpart Pierre Poilievre have joined the ranks of those calling on the McGuinty Liberals to stop the windmills from going up in their riding, specifically the planned Marlborough project in the North Gower-Richmond area.
Jane Wilson, president of Wind Concerns Ontario is glad the Canadian government is taking these concerns seriously.
"Health Canada is saying there is enough reports of problems and people getting sick and this needs to be looked at and no more approvals should be issued until the science is there to determine things," said Wilson.
Wilson said she knew of six or eight MPPs who are bringing their concerns to Queenís Park and requesting moratoriums.
The North Gower project is right now on hold due to the government closing the application process for FIT subsidy funding for large-scale energy projects, but once the application process reopens, the project will be back on and Wilson is calling for the Ontario government to stop it.
Wilson said this study was an important step in determining the health effects of wind turbines.
"Itís really a step forward. Even the Chief Medical Officer of Health said more work needs to be done on this issue," said Wilson.
Asked whether she was concerned the study would prove that no ill effects could be attributed to wind turbines, Wilson quickly dispelled that notion.
"If the study is designed properly, and they study people in locations where they have been experiencing problems, I donít see how it could come out otherwise," she said, "We already have a fair bit of evidence showing that the health effects are there."
Brinston-based South Branch Wind Opposition Group member Leslie Disheau is happy to see the government taking this initiative, but is concerned it wonít be enough.
"They have to make sure they look at every variable and not limit it to a specific range," said Disheau.
Disheau is also concerned that if the proposed projects go ahead, and then have issues to report, that no one will listen. She cited the case of a woman from Chatham-Kent who lives 1.5 km away from a 40 industrial wind turbines. This family has lodged 130 complaints to the Ministry of the Environment and has found that their concerns go unheeded.
"The complaints go into the 1-800 number that they have set up, but nothing ever happens," she said. "The complaints go nowhere."
She hopes Health Canada looks at the complaints being logged because "theyíre getting sick, and no one is allowed to listen to them."
"I hope that it [the study] is really honest, and not just going through the motions," Disheau concluded.
While MacLeod and Poilievre have leapt at the opportunity to call for a halt to the turbine projects in their respective district, Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry MPP Jim McDonell, a fellow Tory, wasnít prepared to go that far in his district, site of the South Branch Wind project.
"As a party we have tried to stop these projects all along. For economic reasons, simply that," the MPP said, adding he felt the study itself should be reason enough to put a hold on the proposed projects.
"You would think if the Government of Canada feels there should be a study on the health effects, there is a reason," he said, adding the study should be taking into consideration different distances to reflect the effects on proximity and ill health.
"The Brinston project, for the most part, is a fairly significant distance away from the houses," he noted.
"This [provincial] governmentís policy is to go ahead regardless of cost. If that is their mandate, they should at least look at the health effects. That should be a concern, if money is not a concern, then health effects should be."
McDonell said the Hudak Tories had not discussed the issue of the federal study, so he was not certain of his partyís stance on calling for a moratorium until it is finished. He also pointed out that the party was trying to introduce a private memberís bill that would allow municipalities a say over wind farms but so far lacked support in the legislature.
When asked if he felt that MacLeod and Poilievre were wasting their time by demanding a moratorium, McDonell replied, "Itís always good to get your voice out there, but practically speaking, weíve been trying this for five years and we havenít had any success. Weíve attacked it from the health side, weíve attacked it from the economic side, and they are still going on."
The ridingís federal representative, Conservative Guy Lauzon, was similarly hesitant to follow MacLeod and Poilievreís example, acknowledging he hasnít called for a halt to the Brinston project pending the studyís outcome."No I havenít. I donít feel I have the knowledge to be able to ... decide whether that should go ahead," said Lauzon, who then added, "Iíd like to see the results of the study before any action is taken, you know." Asked again if that last part of his reply indicated a desire for a moratorium, the MP responded: "Iím not as familiar enough with the intimate details of the Brinston project to be able to know. I donít know if the launch is imminent or not. To be honest with you, I havenít discussed it or given that much thought to it."
Lauzon acknowledged having personal difficulty with the cost of wind power as an Ontario taxpayer. "That upsets me as well. I think thatís a bad decision, maybe, but I donít think thatís got anything to do with the study ... Thatís a bad decision with whatever the study says. I donít like the fact that weíre paying that kind of money for that."
According to the Canadian Wind Energy Associationís website, their position is that a call for a moratorium on wind energy while the study is being conducted is not warranted because "the balance of scientific and medical evidence to date clearly concludes that sound from wind turbines does not adversely impact human health."
CanWEA expects the report to come to the same conclusions and thoroughly supports undertaking the study as a contributor to scientific knowledge and literature.
CanWEA representative Chris Forrest said, "I can tell you that the vast amount of science and medical research to date and the experience of hundreds of thousands of people in a number of countries shows that wind energy does not adversely impact human health."
Forrest added that wind energy is the safest form of energy production, and his organization is completely confident in that safety.
"We are constantly in contact with experts around the world," said Forrest, "Our findings are backed by a growing body of credible reports."
Wilson disagreed the study would prove wind turbines safe, but did agree in the importance of the information that will come out of the process.
"Whatís going to be important is that at the end of this, there is going to be information that can guide governments in terms of establishing rules. The information will help to protect people."
A report by Dr. Loren Knopper states that wind turbines can be an annoyance for some people, and that is what is causing the ill effects.
"Given that annoyance appears to be more strongly related to visual cues and attitude than to noise itself, self reported health effects of people living near wind turbines are more likely attributed to physical manifestation from an annoyed state than from wind turbines themselves," said Knopper in the report.
In other words, Knopper attributes the change in environment and not the "turbine-specific variable like audible noise or infrasound."
"Iíve met Lorne Knopper," said Wilson. "He really should be telling people the way they are using that term annoyance, itís a medical term, Itís not like ĎI get annoyed when my neighbourís dog barks at five in the morning.í Itís associated with severe duress. Itís a very different use of that word."
Wilson said that even the World Health Organization has a definition of it, and a report on environmental noise and the health effects.
She took exception not only to the use of the word annoyance, but to Knopperís report itself.
"With all due respect to Dr. Knopper, his field is actually toxicology and has nothing to do with noise. At the end of his study, he says these peopleís problems could be solved with psychotherapy. That is unbelievably insulting."
Wilson said she spoke to a woman who is 80 years old who had to leave her home because she is surrounded by 18 turbines in close proximity to her home, and the effects on her health have been devastating.
"Psychotherapy isnít going to help her," she said.
"The world is watching this study in Canada. Itís so important."
Meanwhile, the 14-turbine Brinston project ó furthest along in the provincial approval process in Eastern Ontario ó officially awaits a final green light from the province.
However, Nick Thurler, one of a handful farmers in the creek valley hosting the installation, reported that developer ProWind Canada in early July paid out a final signing bonus to the involved landowners, a possible indication of the firmís confidence of a Ďgo.í
He also shot down a rumour that perhaps one of the involved farmers was trying to back out of the deal.
One did successfully seek clarification last year to ensure the turbines wouldnít hamper future construction projects on their land, after ProWind changed ownership, Thurler acknowledged. But none of the group has attempted to get out of their lease agreement with the developer, he added.
Thurler also said he was not surprised by some of the local opposition that has sprung up against the project, saying a farmer involved with the North Gower project advised them of the possibility. "We were warned ... to be prepared for opposition," he said.