The fate of Ontario’s Green Energy Act (GEA), as it relates to wind turbines, might hinge on whether a Divisional Court panel of three Superior Court judges rules that the government should have sought proof that there are no harmful health effects from turbines or rules that the government considered adequately whether a standard setback of 550 metres is safe.
An application for a judicial review, brought by lawyer Eric Gillespie representing Prince Edward County resident Ian Hannah, was heard Monday in Toronto over objections from government lawyer Sara Blake, who argued that the court had no jurisdiction as it involves a wind farm proposal that should be subject to the Renewable Energy Approval (REA) process.
The Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) is a party to the hearing but only as “a friend of the court” and so far only apparently to the extent of submitting information. But its position reflects that of the government.
“In our view this application has no merit and should not be before the court. The proper forum for issues related to setbacks for wind turbine projects is through the Renewable Energy Approval (REA) process. The REA is designed to ensure that renewable energy projects are developed in a way that is protective of human health, the environment, and Ontario’s cultural and natural heritage,” said CanWEA’s media relations officer, Ulrike Kucera in an email response.
The judges have reserved their decision to allow time to review the complex submissions from both sides, but Wind Concerns Ontario is considering that a victory. It says essentially that to have had the case heard at all was a win, and cites three hurdles that it consider it has overcome.
First hurdle: having the case heard;
Second hurdle: the court heard evidence from experts whom the government side said were unqualified;
Third hurdle: the fact of the reserved judgment, as an indication that the panel is reviewing all submissions – including those of the turbine opponent.
Mr. Gillespie’s submissions generally were that the provincial ministry did not consult doctors and did not follow what is known as “the precautionary principle” by which a proposal should be rejected if there is uncertainty about its effects.
Ms. Blake defended the process of the GEA drafting as, she said, the minister reviewed scientific studies. She said the doctors cited by Mr. Gillespie lacked the (expert) qualifications required, and described one of them as “an advocate against wind farms” because an area near his home is being considered for a possible wind farm.
On Tuesday, Mono council unanimously passed a motion by Councillor Fred Nix, asking the provincial government undertake independent third-party clinical research on the health effects of low-frequency noise from wind turbines on nearby residents.
In an interview, Mr. Nix said the motion was largely symbolic, since municipalities have limited authority under the Ontario Green Energy Act.
“This says to the government what a rural municipality thinks,” said Mr. Nix. “They say a safe setback for turbines is 550 metres.
“Do we have a research that says this is safe? I say we don’t.”
While he admitted a motion passed by a single, relatively small municipality bears practically no weight, Mr. Nix was hopeful the message would bring other towns and cities on side and they could make their collective case through the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) or the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA).
“There is strength in numbers, he said,” he said. “We will have a lot more powers if we can get more municipalities on our side.”
The outcome of the court hearing is of vital interest to the Whittington Coalition for Our Right to a Healthy Living Environment, the group opposing a 6.9 megawatt wind turbine installation at Mono- Amaranth Townline and 15 Sideroad, in large part because they believe the 550-metre setbacks are inadequate.
But it is of critical interest to the Ontario government itself as it has been relying on a deal with Samsung and a South Korean turbine service proponent to create thousands of industrial jobs while bolstering Ontario’s production of green wind energy.
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