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Ontario’s Power Trip: Bring in ’da noise, bring in ’da facts

Wind power generates noise at levels that Ontario says must meet enforceable standards – but it has no enforceable standards. The long shabby story of wind noise from the province’s wind energy regime: Misguided Direction or Failure to Communicate

The issue of noise from Ontario’s wind farms deserves a full public review. Instead, people are getting a run around from bureaucrats and politicians. Standards don’t exist, yet approvals are being issued without regard to consequences or the impact on people of noise levels.

Donna Cansfield, in November 2005, as Ontario Minister of Energy issued a “Direction” to the Ontario Power Authority instructing it to enter into contracts for up to 1000 MW of new electricity supply from renewable energy. Most were wind turbines. The health and other effects of wind turbines wasn’t actively studied before the contracts were signed. Noise, building codes, environmental standards etc. existed and were adapted to fit. No real review was undertaken.

To cite an example, the Amaranth wind contract used Stantec Consulting Ltd. of Guelph, Ontario to complete an Environmental Screening Report in February. They used Helimax Energie Inc. for the “noise” sector portion of that report. Three and a half years later Helimax presented a paper at the June 2008, World Wind Energy Conference which stated: “no recognized standard exists for measuring the noise impact of an operational wind farm.”

So the “noise” information used for Amaranth in the Environmental Screening Report in 2005 to secure the licence from the Environment Ministry was done without a “recognized standard”.

A leaked paper from the Guelph district office of the Ontario Ministry of the Environment stated the local authority “knowingly issued a series of Certificates of Approval (AIR) that are unenforceable.”

Sound measurement reports from the Ministry of the Environment exceeded the approved 40 decibel limit by almost 30%. The Ministry notes that allowances are related to wind speed and will allow 51 decibels based on higher wind speeds. This is almost 30% greater than those “experienced in a quiet office”. Research indicates a “clearly notable change” occurs with only a 5dB change and a 10dB increase is roughly equivalent to being a doubling in the perceived sound level as noise is measured on a logarithmic scale similar to earthquakes.

Noise produced by wind turbines is defined as “tonal” (eg: sirens, saws, etc.) and intrusive. Normally a 5dB penalty is applied for tonal noise, including that emanating from wind turbines. It is not clear that this penalty is applied by the Ontario regulators.

Dr. Arlene King, Ontario’s Chief Medical Health Officer, has accepted the findings of others in the May 2010 review endorsing setbacks established by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment so that noise levels that do not exceed 40 decibels at the nearest residence. However, health complaints by residents are generally ignored and end up tangled in provincial bureaucracy. A recent story indicates the MOE received 750 complaints in two years.

Most complaints about how people have suffered wind turbine related health effects remain unresolved, but over 25 families (five in Amaranth alone) have publicly disclosed their problems. Families have abandoned their homes and others have had their homes purchased by the developers and signed “gag” orders. Despite all of this, the various Ministries have not altered or changed their outright denial that there are any health effects.

We don’t really know what the health and quality of life issues are related to wind farms, but the evidence so far seems at odds with the basic premise that politicians are elected to execute the “will of the people.” We clearly need a full open factual review of the wind/noise issue. We have the noise, what we don’t is sold review of the facts on the impact on citizens who have to live with it.

Click here to read a more complete version of my comments and report on this subject.