You should have made sure you could enforce noise limit regulations for wind turbines before deciding to approve them in Dufferin County.
That’s the message anti-wind power group Wind Concerns Ontario (WCO) is shouting at the province’s Liberal government, after a leaked internal document appears to indicate the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) signed off on two wind projects in Amaranth and Melancthon even though it couldn’t enforce the noise limits set out by those approvals.
The MOE, however, claims wind power opponents are taking the leaked email out of context.
Written by a provincial officer from the ministry’s Guelph office identified only as G.W.T. in June of 2009, the email addresses several noise complaints the MOE received from residents living near a total of 133 wind turbines in Amaranth and Melancthon. In his email, G.W.T raised concerns about enforcing noise levels following the commissioning of those industrial wind developments.
Although the Environmental Assessment and Approvals Branch (EAAB) issued certificates of approval, “MOE currently has no approved methodology for field measurement of the noise emissions from multiple noise sources,” G.W.T. wrote. “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 also noted staff from the ministry’s Guelph district office were unable to confirm compliance – even identify non-compliance and take appropriate action – using the MOE’s noise measurement methodology. “EAAB has knowingly issued a series of certificates of approval (air) that are unenforceable,” G.W.T. wrote.
Immediately after releasing the leaked email last Wednesday (June 15), WCO demanded a public inquiry into the suppression of information about noise created near wind turbine installations be conducted.
“I don’t know why we’re still having a debate about whether or not there is a problem with wind in Ontario,” said WCO president John Laforet. “I think this leak, and everything else we already know, settles it. These turbines should have been turned off last night and stay off until there has been a public inquiry.”
Contrary to Laforet’s concern, Jonathan Rose, spokesperson for Ontario Minister of the Environment John Wilkinson, said the ministry does have an approved methodology in place to ensure wind projects don’t exceed 40 dB – an earmark the World Health Organization considers protective of human health.
“This (email) passage is being taken out of context. The officer is referring to being able to isolate an individual turbine as the source rather than a wind project generally,” Rose said in an email. “Wind farm projects in Ontario are safe, and we take compliance with our stringent rules very seriously.”
Rose said the ministry has always been able to measure noise levels and detect anything exceeding its 40 dB requirement, but is also field testing a refined methodology which will allow the MOE to determine the specific source of noise and “attribute it to a particular turbine” with better accuracy. “This will be rolled out across the province in mid-July,” Rose said.
In addition, he said reporting an issue of non-compliance to companies has always resulted in action making sure turbines meet the ministry’s requirements.
“We just completed an inspection of the 15 largest projects in Ontario and found no noise compliance issues,” Rose added. “In a case where a project has a history of complaints, we have moved to weekly inspections to make sure the turbines are quiet.”
Laforet, however, argued the email indicates a “complete failure” on the part of the provincial government to look out for the health and well being of its citizens. Claiming the government is abdicating its responsibilities to wind power lobbyists, he said a public inquiry could get to the bottom of how this happened, and why “so many people have been allowed to suffer for so long while the ministry knew they were issuing certificates of approval that were unenforceable.”
As for the ministry’s response to WOC’s call for a public inquiry, Rose said the province’s noise limits are more stringent than the states of California, Minnesota, New York, as well as countries like France, Denmark and Germany. In fact, he said MOE reviewed more than 130 studies when developing its regulations and has implemented the toughest minimum setback in North America.
Rose was also quick to point out anti-wind groups already took the MOE to court over wind turbine regulations and lost.
“We have and will continue to develop renewable energy projects in a way that protects people,” Rose added. “We will continue working hard to make sure the turbines are quiet and residents can get a good night sleep.”
The leaked documents were released a little more than one month after the Township of Amaranth sent a lengthy letter to Wilkinson raising concerns with respect to the Green Energy Act (GEA) and turbines in its municipality.
As the township explained, it cannot support any development project where it feels wind farm owners have power under the GEA to negatively disrupt the health and wealth of residents any further.
The letter also claims spreading turbines across the landscape negatively impacts the health and wealth of five to 10 landowners per turbine or transformer, and suggests wind farm owners should be forced to buy land just like any other developer.
“This solution of land ownership and amalgamation of turbines on that land is clearly within your provincial powers and a moratorium should be enacted immediately to implement this solution,” Amaranth Mayor Don MacIver wrote, stating his council will not support any future wind turbine installations, including the proposed Whittington Wind Farm, until significant problems with current wind farms and transformers are resolved by the MOE. “The time for serious corrective action is already overdue.”
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