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Wind farm report hot air: expert

A report released Friday by the Ontario government that claims sound generated by wind farms poses no health risk to nearby residents is being dismissed by a wind-farm opponent from Amherst Island.

“The ministry (of the environment) and wind industry keep on saying that there is no direct health risk, but they are wrong,” said Amherst Island resident John Harrison, a retired Queen’s University physics professor who was consulted during the creation of the report.

The report analysed findings on the low-frequency noise emitted from wind turbines. Its authors determined current regulations— which include a 550-metre minimum setback from homes and a 40-decibel noise limit â€“ are safe for those living nearby.

Three experts in the field of noise, vibration and acoustics agree with the report’s conclusions, the government said.

Harrison says the government continues to ignore key facts.

“The problem is the sin of omission,” he said,

citing instances of adverse health effects for people living near wind farms from the low-frequency noise, or “swooshing” sound from the turbines.

“Once you have something repetitive like that, you just can’t get away from it,” he said. “That’s why people are so annoyed by this turbine noise.”

Citing studies from the Netherlands and Sweden, Harrison said that annoyance could lead to adverse health effects, such as sleep deprivation.

“What we have in some ways are indirect health risks, in that one thing leads to another,” he said.

Ontario’s push to phase out coal-fired plants by 2014 has opened the door to dozens of wind, solar and biomass projects across the province in recent years, including the 86-turbine Wolfe Island wind project that began commercial operation in 2009.

Developer Algonquin Power is in the process of submitting an application to the provincial government to construct 33 turbines on Amherst Island, opposition for which has been fierce.

Harrison said the government’s most recent study fails to provide information about how the proximity of each turbine affects the sound. Because the large blades on the turbines cause air to become turbulent as it passes through, the low-frequency noise is heightened as air goes from one turbine to the next, he said.

The closer the turbines, the more noticeable the noise, he said.

“Their predictions carry uncertainty and (they) have to acknowledge the ‘swishing’ sound,” he said.

Harrison said he would also like the province to measure turbine noise from inside nearby homes, something he says the authors of this report did not do.

“People are finding that their sleep is disturbed because they can’t get to sleep,” he said, “so what you want to find out is what the noise (level) is inside the house.”