Ontario’s regulations may have permitted wind turbines at the Melancthon EcoPower Centre to be too noisy, suggests an internal memo penned by a senior official for the Ministry of the Environment (MOE).
Written in April of 2010 by Cameron Hall, a senior environmental officer for the MOE’s Guelph District office, the document specifically refers to wind turbine generator systems (WTGs) at the Melancthon EcoPower Centre.
In his memo, Hall explains provincial regulations assume WTGs don’t emit a tonal or cyclic variation quality, but noted MOE field officers at the Melancthon EcoPower Centre concluded some of them did.
As Hall explained, most complainants contacting the MOE about the Melancthon EcoPower Centre found a “blade swoosh” or “swishing” sound coming from WTGs to be offensive.
According to a 2008 MOE guideline, those sounds, which Hall said field officers confirmed existed at the Melancthon EcoPower Centre, could trigger a five dB penalty.
“The assumption that the sound contamination discharged from WTGs does not have a tonal characteristic or a cyclic variation is not supported by our field observations,” Hall wrote.
“It appears reasonable to suggest that a five dB penalty for tonal quality of the sound discharged into the natural environment from the WTGs may be required.”
According to Jonathan Rose, spokesperson for Environment Minister John Wilkinson, the ministry does enforce that five dB penalty for tonal noise when it comes to several projects in Ontario.
“We’ll lower allowable noise limits by five decibels for any project with a transformer that emits tonal noise, whether that be for a steel plant, a residential development or a wind project,” he said.
But as Rose noted, the MOE has kept its 40 dB allowable limit — “that is what is recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) as protective of human health and several other organizations.
“We actually required the transformer to be completely changed,” Rose said, referring to the Melancthon EcoPower Centre. “There has been work done at that transformer to make sure that it complies.”
On Aug. 15, Wind Concerns Ontario (WCO) released Hall’s memo to mark the start of its “WindyLeaks” campaign, a group of documents the wind watchdog coalition has collected through several Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.
Referencing Hall’s comments about that audible swish, and how other industrial noise with similar characteristics receive five decibel penalties, WCO president John Laforet argued noise limits for wind turbines should be lowered to 35 decibels from 40.
“For almost four years, residents in rural Ontario have played by the book. They have complained about the unbearable noise to the field officers in their region, believing that the field officers would communicate the issues to the minister and his advisers,” Laforet said in a news release.
“It appears this Liberal government is operating in a culture of willful blindness at the most senior level.”
In establishing its regulation, Rose said the MOE considered 132 peer-reviewed scientific studies, which concluded wind turbines are safe as long as they are situated at least 550 metres away from homes, schools and churches, and don’t emit sounds higher than 40 dB.
“An important point about our noise limit is that it is actually tougher than California, Minnesota, New York, France, Denmark, Germany, and there are a number of others,” Rose said.
“Our 550-metre setback is obviously legislated as the toughest in North America.”
And if the province were to lower its noise standard below 40 dB, Rose said the MOE would be forced to shut down most of the industry in Ontario, as that’s the current guideline wind projects are required to abide by.