TORONTO – Ontario’s Liberal government scored a major victory Thursday in its plans to promote wind energy, after a Superior Court panel dismissed a legal challenge brought by opponents of the law.
The case was the first major test of regulations introduced in September 2009, that allowed power producers to place wind turbines 550 metres from the nearest home.
Ian Hanna, a resident of Prince Edward County, where several wind farms are slated to be built, objected to that amount of “setback.”
Hanna said medical evidence showed low-frequency noise from the turbines cause a range of health effects, including sleep deprivation, stress, chronic depression and even cardiovascular disease. Backed by a powerful grassroots lobby that raised more than $200,000 to pay for the case, Hanna filed a Superior Court challenge to the legislation, saying Ontario’s environment minister had ignored scientific evidence.
On Thursday, a three-judge panel disagreed and dismissed Hanna’s case.
“There was a full public consultation and a consideration of the views of interested parties,” the judges wrote in their decision. “The ministerial review included science-based evidence, such as reports of the World Health Organization and the opinions of acoustical engineering experts. Cognizant of the possible health concerns, the minister decided the minimum 550-metre setback was adequate.”
“This was not the decision we’d hoped for,” Hanna said from his house in Picton. “But there are elements we find to be quite positive.”
Hanna and the organization that backed him, Wind Concerns Ontario, will focus their energy on a challenge of the province’s first major wind farm to emerge from the 2009 Green Energy Act at the Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT).
The eight-turbine, 20-megawatt project in the municipality of Chatham-Kent is owned by Suncor Energy and is not yet operational.
“The court has left the entire 550-metre setback issue as an open question to be decided by the ERT,” said Hanna’s lawyer, Eric Gillespie.
The pro-wind lobby, meanwhile, issued its own statement, calling Ontario’s setbacks “among the most stringent in the world.”
Despite the victory in court, uncertainty still hangs over the future of wind energy in the province.
With towers that reach 60 to 90 metres into the sky, wind farms are obtrusive and generally resented by rural residents who live near them. The province had that “NIMBYISM” (Not In My Back Yard) in mind when it took sighting power away from municipalities and put it in the hands of a central authority.
But that provision has also proved enormously unpopular in rural Ontario, and Progressive Conservative party leader Tim Hudak has promised to restore planning power to municipalities if elected premier in October’s provincial election.
An announcement of new large government-subsidized green energy projects in late February featured only four (of 40 total) wind projects.
“Solar seems to have leaped ahead of wind,” lawyer Dan Gormley told the Ottawa Citizen in a recent interview. “I think that’s because it’s much less controversial from a NIMBY perspective. You can have a fairly big solar park hidden behind some trees on some farmland and no one’s going to notice it. You don’t hear it. You don’t see it. And big wind turbines bother a lot of people.”
It is unclear whether Hanna will appeal Thursday’s decision. He has 15 days to do so.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding