It’s an O.K. Corral moment for Ontario’s wind industry, with all sides bringing gunslingers for the big fight.
If wind is the frontier of energy in the province, consider this the showdown: Adversaries have enlisted experts around the world to slug out the future of the billion-dollar industry.
Energy giant Suncor, Ontario’s environment minister and wind protesters will descend Tuesday on Chatham for the start of a two-month hearing that may rest the future of wind power on the question of whether turbines harm human health.
“It couldn’t be bigger. It’s really an appeal of international significance,” said Douglas Desmond, a Chatham lawyer who helped organized protesters against Suncor’s turbines.
While similar challenges have been heard in France, Great Britain and the United States, never have so many scientists, doctors and other experts been expected to testify.
“We’re not familiar with any other hearing that has brought the number and breadth of experts,” said Toronto lawyer Ian Gillespie, who will argue for the link between wind and health with the help of a team of 10 experts from as far away as Australian, New Zealand and Great Britain.
“This appears to be the most comprehensive hearing to date looking at the issue of human health,” Gillespie said.
Suncor has a team of seven experts and the ministry another six.
The project being challenged, already being built six km west of Thamesville, is small, just eight turbines, but the stakes couldn’t be higher.
The Thamesville project, called the Kent Breeze Wind Farms, was the first given the OK under provisions of provincial green-energy legislation by Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals meant to make renewable energy a core part of Ontario’s future.
McGuinty’s plan calls for doubling wind energy this year and increasing it to 10% of Ontario’s total energy supply during the next 20 years, a five-fold jump.
Opponents say the turbines emit low-pitched sounds which disrupt the body’s rhythms and cause headaches, tinnitus, dizziness, nausea, rapid heart rate, irritability and problems with concentration and memory.
Those claims have been dismissed as anecdotal and unscientific by those who defend wind energy, including the environment ministry.
“Our approvals process is fully protective of both human health and the environment,” ministry spokesperson Mark Rabbior said.
A Suncor spokesperson said he wouldn’t comment on the legal challenge.
One of the anti-wind experts, Michael Nissenbaum, plans to present evidence from what Gillespie says is the first controlled study to show a link between turbines and health.
The hearing will continue in Chatham and Toronto with dates in February and March before two members of a tribunal appointed by the Ontario government. Its decision could be appealed to a divisional court.
The legal battle is one of two under way. In the other, anti-wind activist Ian Hanna claims the environment minister over-stepped his bounds by recommending only a 550-m buffer between turbines and homes.
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