Environment ministry memo puts wind under wings of turbine opponents
Credit: Greg Layson, Mercury staff, www.guelphmercury.com 18 August 2011 ~~
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GUELPH – Opponents of wind farms proposed for Wellington County have more ammunition to use in their fight.
A freedom of information request filed by Wind Concerns Ontario revealed a concerning memo written by Cameron Hall, a senior environmental officer in the Ontario Ministry of the Environment’s Guelph district office. The group posted the memo on its website Monday.
Current government regulations mandate turbines be set back a minimum of 550 metres from a residence and that noise levels not exceed 40 decibels.
However, in his 2010 memo, Hall wrote the current limit of 40 decibels of noise should be reduced to 32 or even 30 decibels. He said the lower decibel levels “would not cause or be likely to cause adverse effects.”
Hall goes on to write, “it appears compliance with the minimum setbacks and the noise study approach currently being used to approve the siting of (wind turbines) will result or likely result in adverse effects.”
Hall based his memo on data the government collected before passing the Green Energy Act in 2010.
“What it demonstrates to us is that the government had full knowledge of the effects sound has on people well before the enactment of the Green Energy Act,” said James Virgin, spokesperson for the Oppose Belwood Wind Farm Association. “People now suffer under the burden of turbines despite the fact government had evidence of the health effects.”
The Belwood association is one of 57 localized organizations that comprise Wind Concerns Ontario.
TransCanada Energy plans to build a wind farm consisting of 25 to 35 turbines on approximately 1,620 hectares of land a few kilometres northwest of Belwood.
“Most people will read five decibels and think, ‘So what? That’s not much. Live with it,’ ” Virgin said. “But what people fail to realize is that five decibels equates to a 100 per cent increase in noise.”
The province uses the World Health Organization’s 40-decibel standard to protect human health. But Virgin said that number is not for cyclical noise, such as the “blade swoosh” and constant noise created by wind turbines, but rather noise in general, such as construction.
Guelph Liberal MPP Liz Sandals called Wind Concerns Ontario “a lobby” and said she is “quite happy to defend what we’re doing with mills and the Green Energy Act.”
“What we did was apply the World Health Organization’s standard of 40 decibels. Regardless of the source, that’s the sound standard, in general. Forty decibels is what we apply to every source of sound,” Sandals said. “What you have seen is just one report. The Ministry of Environment would have gotten many reports. But this group chose to publicize this one report that sides with them.”
Wellington-Halton Hills Conservative MPP Ted Arnott is fighting the wind farm on the behalf of his constituents.
“It leads you to believe the Ministry of Environment had concerns. And some people have serious health issues related to wind turbines,” Arnott said of the memo. “But the government made a decision to remove any and all roadblocks stopping these wind farms.”
Arnott said residents can’t stake a fair fight because the government removed municipal planning authority and keeps changing the rules and regulations governing wind farms.
“Ultimately, what’s occurring is that every time constituents bring forth a valid point or health concern, the process is changed to accommodate the development of wind turbines,” Virgin said. “Each step that’s being made by the people who are suffering is thwarted by a government that wants to satisfy wind companies.”
Sandals said the Liberals’ green energy policy has helped reduced the use of coal generated electricity by 90 per cent since 2003.
“We need to look at larger public policy question. What’s the impact of breathing dirty air?” Sandals asked. “It costs the government $3 billion in health-care costs every year.”
Hall did not return a phone call or respond to an email requesting an interview with the Guelph Mercury.
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