OTTAWA – An agency of Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment approved two large wind farms in 2009 even though it knew the ministry couldn’t enforce noise limits set out in the approvals, says a leaked internal e-mail.
The June 2009 e-mail, released Wednesday by the anti-wind-power group Wind Concerns Ontario, was written by a provincial officer in the ministry’s Guelph district office. It deals with complaints by residents living near two wind projects with a total of 133 turbines in the townships of Amaranth and Melancthon, near Shelburne.
The ministry officer, identified only as G.W.T., wrote that the “most pressing and immediate” issue was that the ministry’s Environmental Assessment and Approvals Branch (EAAB) had issued certificates of approval for the turbines that included noise emission compliance limits.
But, wrote the officer, the ministry “currently has no approved methodology for field measurement of the noise emissions from multiple noise sources. As such, there is no way for MOE field staff (and I would submit anyone else) to confirm compliance or lack thereof with the noise limits set in the approvals.”
The official went on to describe three sets of complaints from residents about turbine noise, each of which were confirmed by staff from the district office.
They included a “quite annoying” hum audible inside some homes, “blade whoosh” noise from some turbines that cumulatively exceeded the limits set out in the certificates of approval, and nighttime noise that was up to 10 decibels louder than normal nighttime ambient noise levels.
In all three cases, the e-mail said, “district office staff are unable to confirm compliance, or identify non-compliance, utilizing the NPC-103 measurement methodology, with the applicable standard, and subsequently take appropriate action.
“EAAB has knowingly issued a series of certificates of approval (Air) that are unenforceable,” the ministry officer complained.
John Laforet, president of Wind Concerns Ontario, an umbrella organization of local anti-wind groups, said the e-mail demonstrates that Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals have “completely abdicated their responsibility as a government to protect the people.
“The ministry has always hidden behind the fact that there are strict certificates of approval,” Laforet said in an interview. “That’s simply not true if they’re unenforceable.”
He called for a public inquiry. “This stinks. Something has gone seriously wrong with the province of Ontario, and we need to get to the bottom of it.”
Scott Smith, vice-president policy for the Canadian Wind Energy Association, said his members “are in compliance with everything the MOE (Ministry of the Environment) has asked us to do. If there are issues with compliance or enforcement, that’s something the government would need to comment on.”
Jonathan Rose, a spokesman for Ontario Environment Minister John Wilkinson, replied that the ministry “has had an approved methodology to make sure that noise from wind projects (does) not exceed 40db, which the World Health Organization says is protective of human health. We take compliance with our stringent rules very seriously,” he added.
Rose said the ministry has a variety of tools to ensure compliance, starting with voluntary actions and progressing to shutting turbines down. “In every case, simply reporting an issue of non-compliance to the company has resulted in actions to make sure they meet our stringent requirements.”
Smith said some of the association’s members “are going above and beyond what is required,” doing noise compliance testing they haven’t been asked to do.
“We’re a responsible industry,” he said. “If there are going to be new requirements, then we will certainly adhere to the new requirements.”
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