While local wind developers are pleased with a court ruling last week upholding the 550-metre setback for industrial wind turbines from homes, members of Huron East and Central Huron citizens’ groups fighting against industrial turbines are disappointed but not defeated by the decision.
Ian Hanna, of Prince Edward County, asked an Ontario court to strike down part of the province’s Green Energy Act, arguing that the 550-metre minimum distance rule between wind turbines and homes was not sufficient to prevent human health concerns. A panel of Toronto judges dismissed the challenge last week, saying that the environment minister followed proper process in requiring turbines be set back at least 550 metres.
“We’re pleased with the decision, obviously,” said Jose Menendez, who is planning a 15-turbine wind project north of St. Columban. “We weren’t worried about it – it was one of those process things that had to happen. But, it’s good to see that the courts supported it.”
Heather Boa, communications manager with Leader Resources Services Corp., says her company is also happy with the court’s decision. Leader Resources is proposing two wind projects in Central Huron, including a 150-MW Twenty Two Degree Wind Energy Project, which consists of 60 2.5-MW GE turbines, and a 100-MW Summerhill Wind Energy Project, which consists of 40 2.5-MW GE turbines. Both have applications before the Ontario Power Authority, and have been assigned a priority ranking on the transmission queue.
“The court decision upholds the regulation in terms of the setbacks and that the environment minister followed the correct procedure and we’re very pleased to hear that. It reaffirms what we’re doing and we’re doing it correctly,” said Boa.
Rob Tetu, a member of Huron East Against Turbines (HEAT) said the court decision doesn’t rule that 550 metres is a safe distance for human health – it only rules that the province was in its right to make the decision on the setback.
“They left it open for the Environmental Review Tribunal to decide,” he said, adding that he was disappointed the ruling wasn’t “more specific.”
Tetu said he will be interested to see the results of an Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal, now hearing an appeal by Chatham-Kent Wind Action arguing over the impact of wind turbines on human health at a Suncor wind farm.
“I hope the Chatham-Kent decision is stronger. To stop that particular project will affect a whole bunch of other others,” said Tetu.
Robert Budd, a member of Central Huron Against Turbines (CHAT), said the decision acknowledged that the courts can’t question the wisdom of a provincial minister but can rule if the minister followed correct procedures.
“So, that’s not an admission that 550 metres is a safe setback,” he said. “The key thing is the ruling doesn’t change the fact that we still need a good epidemiological study on the effects of wind turbines on human health.”
Budd said he’s not surprised by the court’s decision, adding he always thought the issue would be decided in “the court of public opinion.”
He said turning the issue over to the Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal to decide on a case-by-case basis will only pit private citizens against multi-billion dollar corporations to try and prove they are suffering health effects from wind turbines.
“I don’t think a lot of us had high expectations of this court case. It doesn’t change anything,” he said, adding that CHAT will continue to try and inform members of the local community about the 460 wind turbines planned for the region.
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