LONDON, Ont. – Wind opponents have lost a key battle in their fight against industrial turbines.
A panel of judges in Toronto has dismissed a challenge by those who argued turbines may harm human health.
The decision preserves, for now, the push by Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals to make green energy a key element of Ontario’s future and a talking point in the provincial election in October.
“This regulation is the cornerstone of Ontario’s approach to the approval of wind turbine projects and the protection of human health and the environment,” Environment Minister John Wilkinson wrote in a media release. “This is a significant decision . . . Increasing renewable energy sources helps clean the air we breathe and attract jobs and investment, positioning Ontario as a global leader in renewable energy.”
The court found Ontario’s environment minister followed proper process in requiring turbines to be set back at least 550 metres from homes.
“It is not the court’s function to question the wisdom of the minister’s decision, or even whether it was reasonable. If the minister followed the (proper process) his decision is unassailable on a judicial review application,” the judges wrote.
The effect on human health is only one issue to be considered by the minister in creating regulations.
“The health concerns for persons living in proximity to wind turbines cannot be denigrated, but they do not trump all other considerations,” the court wrote.
There are 10 elements the environment minister must consider from the ministry’s statement of environmental values and the others include reducing pollution, the court wrote.
The decision prompted an angry response from some anti-turbine activists, a discontent that grassroots leader John LaForet addressed in an e-mail to supporters.
“Today’s ruling is not what we had hoped for, it is certainly not a victory, but at the same time, it does not spell defeat as the court did not accept any of the challenges made by the government against expert witnesses, nor did they determine 550 metres was an acceptable distance,” he wrote in an e-mail obtained by The Free Press.
“Go forward with your chin up, and eyes forward, because we’re still well positioned to win our fight before the new year with other opportunities unfolding,” wrote Laforet, who is president of Wind Concerns Ontario.
The court noted that those with health concerns can challenge specific wind turbine projects near them by appealing to a review tribunal set up by the Environment Ministry that has scientific experts needed to evaluate objections.
Such a review is underway in Chatham, where an unprecedented lineup of experts have been testifying – a decision will be made by May 29.
The cause of turbine opponents may benefit from the court ruling today even though the case was lost, said lawyer Eric Gillespie, who is representing turbine opponents in both settings.
The three judges in Toronto didn’t dismiss the evidence presented by anti-turbine experts who are also making their case in Chatham – the panel merely said such a matter was better decided before an environmental review panel, Gillespie said.
Those who say the turbines harm health say the devices emit low-pitched sounds that disrupt the body’s rhythms and cause headaches, tinnitus, dizziness, nausea, rapid heart rate, irritability and problems with concentration and memory.
Other experts say turbines may annoy some neighbours but there is no established link between turbines and ill health.
WHY WIND CAN BE FOUL
Run at only 12% to 15% capacity in summer.
Can’t feasibly store excess electricity on windy days.
Must be backed by conventional power sources.
Queen’s Park took away right of towns and cities to stymie projects
Grassroots revolt by those fearful of effects on health and home
Tourism may be hurt by offshore turbines.
Integrating with grid costly.
Less promise than solar as a long-term replacement for fossil fuels.
WHY WIND WORKS
Less fossil fuel on windy days.
Cheapest renewable energy.
Relatively quick to build.
Growing industry brings jobs.
Source of income for landowners and towns that host them.
New conventional plants are costly too.
Ian Hanna asked an Ontario court to strike down part of the province’s Green Energy Act, enlisting doctors who argued human health was compromised when the act created a buffer of only 550 metres between wind turbines and homes.
The lobby group for the wind industry intervened in the case.
The Ontario government dismisses medical claims as irrelevant and said Hanna doesn’t have a legal basis for a challenge