GODERICH – Huron County council heard two delegations on wind turbines at its May 4 meeting, the first dealing with health effects and a second focused mainly on turbines’ potential effect on property values.
Dr. David Colby, medical officer of health (MOH) for the Municipality of Chatham-Kent, spoke first, arguing turbines do not have direct health effects.
Shawn Drennan, a resident of Ashfield-Colborne-Wawanosh, spoke mainly about property values, raising a series of concerns.
Council made no decision on how to proceed on the matter, and some suggested after Drennan’s presentation that turbines are a provincial issue.
Colby said turbines do not produce enough sound energy at the source to disrupt human tissues and asked how they could cause any type of pathology.
He said most of this started with a book by Dr. Nina Pierpont called “Wind Turbine Syndrome: A Report on a Natural Experiment,” and critiqued the book at length.
Colby said subjects in the book were selected “through the most extreme selection bias that I have ever seen as a medical scientist – no blinding, no randomization, no confirmation about any of this stuff.”
After listing a number of symptoms linked to turbines, Colby said, “I’ve got this, except I don’t live near any wind turbines. Everybody has some of these things.”
The list included sleep disturbance, headache, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), ear pressure, dizziness, vertigo, nausea, visual blurring, tachycardia, irritability, problems with concentration, and panic episodes.
Colby spoke about the assumed mechanisms for Wind Turbine Syndrome (WTS), saying the mechanisms are “absolutely impossible.”
He referred to low-level infrasound at 1-2 Hz activating the vestibular system in the ear and vibrating the chest, saying: “We have a vibrator at 1-2 Hz in our chest now beating – it’s called a heart – that would exceed any energy level that wind turbines could possibly generate in people.”
Colby defined infrasound as a frequency below the limit of audible sound, saying we’re immersed in infrasound all the time.
Colby said he was part of an expert panel that concluded there is no evidence of audible or sub-audible sounds emitted by wind turbines having any direct adverse physiological effects.
He said ground-borne vibrations (from wind turbines) are too weak to be detected by or to affect humans, and the sounds emitted by wind turbines are not unique.
Colby said this study was criticized because it was sponsored by the American and Canadian wind energy associations, but Colby showed a list of eight other studies he claims have concluded there are no health effects due to wind turbines.
“That doesn’t mean that if the sound levels are exceeded that people are not going to be annoyed,” he said.
“Of course they are, and we should be very assiduous at making sure that these installations do not produce too much sound at people’s homes, because too much sound will annoy people and cause all kinds of stress reactions.
“I’m not saying that they’re incapable of making people annoyed, but they don’t have direct health effects.”
Colby later fielded questions from council, and Huron East Coun. Bill Siemon suggested there’s a requirement for large energy companies to try to make turbines safe and that people won’t get sick.
“I think the onus is on testing before they go up, not after,” Siemon said.
After addressing various examples raised by Siemon, Colby said there is “no reasonable expectation of harm for the sounds emitted by wind turbines,” adding it’s impossible to prove a negative.
“You cannot design an experiment to prove that ghosts do not exist or that wind turbines do not cause harm,” he said.
Central Huron Coun. Brian Barnim said he can’t dismiss the fact there are people claiming illness from turbines.
He asked what, in Colby’s opinion, is an “acceptable amount of people to get sick to say these things are still OK?”
Colby said he’d shown pervasive data that wind turbines are not making people sick but compared the situation to hazards of the alternatives to wind energy, saying coal plants kill 250 people a year in Ontario and sicken thousands.
He noted recent issues with nuclear energy in Japan and said there’s data from Europe that people who live near nuclear generation plants have higher levels of childhood leukemia.
“The alternatives to wind energy … they all have documented worse health or ecological consequences than does wind or solar energy,” he said.
Warden Neil Vincent later raised the issue of Colby’s qualifications, saying his understanding was Colby’s primary background is in microbiology.
Colby said his fellowship in the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons is in microbiology and infectious diseases.
He said for more than seven years he’s been the MOH responsible for all public health issues in Chatham-Kent.
“This is very much a public health issue, and well within my area of expertise,” he added.
Drennan began his presentation by saying he attended the council meeting not as an expert but as a concerned citizen.
A written copy of his presentation, which Drennan followed closely while addressing council, states his family has closely followed the wind issue since 2006.
The written copy states in 2009 there were 59,325 people living in Huron County, and raises concern about a potential 10 per cent population loss due to wind turbines.
“With a 10 per cent loss of our population .. we could possibly see an exodus over time of another 5-6,000 people,” the document states.
“This would be a tremendous (loss) of economic activity and also human capital, both badly needed to (propel) the county forward.”
Drennan cited a wind power company saying it will create 10-12 full-time jobs in Ontario.
The written copy of Drennan’s presentation asks how those jobs would begin to cover “the damage done to our economic viability and the (loss) of our human capital.”
The document also asks who will be left to pay taxes, and who should pay those taxes.
Drennan then spoke about a 2008 Ontario Assessment Review Board case involving a property impacted by a hydro transformer station.
According to a document provided by Drennan, the transformer station emitted a noise level of 40 decibels and the ARB reduced the value of the property from $225,000 to $127,000 for the 2008 taxation year.
Drennan’s written presentation notes 40 decibels is the maximum allowed noise level for turbines under the provincial Green Energy Act (GEA).
Drennan’s written presentation sketched out a scenario in which residents of towns and villages pay the brunt of taxes as other landowners apply to have their property values reassessed.
Later in his presentation Drennan suggested there are problems with wind turbine installations already sited in Ontario, alleging noise complaints, families moved away and stray voltage, among other things.
“What I would like Huron County council to remember is that you are responsible for the health, safety and welfare of all your constituents,” Drennan stated in his written presentation.
He then raised a series of questions, asking how an increase in energy prices will affect the job creation abilities of the county, and how seniors and the poor will handle the energy price increase.
He asked how turbines will attract an aging Baby Boom generation, and asked if more jobs will be lost than gained due to wind developments.
During council’s discussion of the matter, Barnim suggested the matter is not about whether people are for green energy or against it.
“It’s about whether or not this is a good deal for the municipality and the county,” he said.
Goderich Coun. Deb Shewfelt suggested some councillors are getting too close to the issue and it should be dealt with at the provincial level.
Howick Coun. Art Versteeg also suggested it’s a provincial issue and asked Drennan for suggestions about what council should be doing on the matter.
Drennan suggested a moratorium on wind turbines, adding later the matter will be won in the courts and with the provincial government.
“It’s not going to be won here,” he said, referring to the county council session.
“The battles are not going to be fought here. But if there’s a battle coming, we’re not backing away from it either.”
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