Is the ground shifting below Ontario’s wind turbines? Last week an Ontario judge ruled that Dr. Arlene King, the province’s chief medical officer of health, will have to testify about the known noise and health risks of industrial wind turbines. It was a small but potentially game-changing decision. The province fought hard to prevent this from happening. Now the truth will be known.
Shawn and Trisha Drennan face the looming prospect of 150 massive industrial wind turbines outside the door of their Ashfield Township home near Goderich. One turbine is set to be erected just 650 metres from their home—45 metre (147 feet) blades sweeping 105 (347 feet) overhead. For at least the next 20 years.
The Drennans have taken their fight the Ontario Supreme Court to block the development. In their battle they are taking on the provincial government, as well as a consortium composed of EPCOR, an Alberta-based utility, and Samsung, a large Korean multinational, that has secured preferred access to the province’s wind energy bonanza. Every other wind developer in the province is watching this courtroom very closely.
When Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government could no longer ignore complaints ranging from sleep disorders, vertigo to ringing in the ears from ordinary folks living near industrial wind turbines, it directed Dr. King to examine the current medical literature.
In some areas of medical investigation a review of the published studies is a useful method of determining risk and uncovering potential problems. But current wind turbine techonology is barely two decades old, constantly evolving and rarely are these massive machines put as near to residences as they are in Ontario. There is scant literature to study.
In any event it wasn’t what physicians and advocates for these afflicted people were seeking. Folks like Dr. Robert McMurtry have long challenged the province to examine the effect wind turbines have on Ontario residents. There are now more than 600 turbines spinning over homes across the province. There are plenty of folks complaining that wind turbines are making them sick. They say the health of Ontarians living near turbines needs to be investigated— not the thin volume of evidence compiled to date.
Health Canada last week said it would do just that.
Not surprisingly, Ontario’s chief medical officer found “no direct causal link” in the studies she examined. Far less reported however, was that King noted gaps in her report.
Since then, the province has leaned heavily on Dr. King’s report, as it forged ahead with the development of hundreds of wind turbines across the province. Using Dr. King’s report, McGuinty rejected complaints that wind turbines were making people sick as a form of NIMBYism.
It is the gaps, however, that the Drennans and many other Ontarians wish to probe.
Provincial lawyers intervened in an attempt to prevent the province’s top medical officer from testifying in the Drennans’ case. But Justice Mary Sanderson set aside a lower court’s ruling. She, too, wants the chief medical officer to explain the gaps.
Last fall a Environmental Review Tribunal in Chatham Kent, while ruling in favour of the province and the developer, observed that the science behind the current research into health and wind turbines was limited and more work must be done before it could be concluded that these devices are safe and that the setbacks defined in the Green Energy Act are sufficient.
Taken together the province’s own legal and regulatory apparatus, (as well as its own auditor general) have begun to push back against Dalton McGuinty’s rash and ill-considered adventure into intermittent energy generation. In and of themselves, these new hurdles are unlikely to stop McGuinty.
But the mood in Ontario is shifting. Those complaining that industrial wind turbines are making them sick and forcing them from their homes are no longer on the margins. Their numbers are growing. Their voices are becoming louder.
The glow that folks once felt in supporting renewable energy is wearing thin once they learn that generating really expensive, poor quality electricity is ruining their neighbours’ lives.
As the folks in Mississauga opposed to the construction of a gas-fired generating station in their community learned during the last election, when it comes to winning elections Dalton McGuinty will abandon his energy ideas in a heartbeat. When he finally sniffs the tide of public sentiment flowing against industrial wind turbine development in this province, I expect he will fold like a carnival tent in a prairie wind storm.
The only questions left are: How many lives will be diminished in the meantime? How many homes will be made unlivable? How many species will be pushed out of their dwindling habitat? How many horizons will be polluted? How many billions of dollars will this disastrous misadventure cost Ontario taxpayers?
Let us push to finish this—sooner rather than later.