Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer says the province will soon see guidelines from Health Canada for how far wind turbines should be from homes.
The national guidelines, which have been circulated in draft form, will closely match those in place in Ontario, where the provincial government spells out a minimum distance of 550 metres, and could stop a patchwork of municipal guidelines from evolving.
Saskatchewan will defer to the federal guidelines, a move that likely won’t quell a growing number of anti-wind activists who are calling for more stringent homegrown regulations as the province expands wind power.
“At this stage, they’re looking very similar to Ontario,” said Dr. Moira McKinnon, Saskatchewan’ chief medical health officer. “There will only be minor discrepancies (to Ontario’s regulations).”
The issue of wind turbine setbacks has been central to the debate over the 120-metre wind turbine project planned for the Saskatoon landfill, which is likely dead after bids came in over budget. The project was planned to be 780 metres away from the closest residence, a distance McKinnon called “perfectly acceptable” under the standards.
Most Saskatchewan municipalities don’t have bylaws in place so wind companies have been negotiating directly with land owners on land lease agreements. The province has advised municipalities to use the Ontario regulations as a guideline, McKinnon said. The Health Canada guidelines will deal with noise and shadow flicker, and will account for the power of the turbine, the size of the blade and the geography of where the wind development is planned, she said.
When the landfill wind turbine report is tabled next Monday at city council, Coun. Pat Lorje says she will call for a moratorium on new wind energy projects in Saskatoon until the province has a standard setback distance in place.
Lorje, who called for setback distances of up to two kilometres in an urban setting, argues the health effects of living close to big turbines are unknown and as a precaution, development should be curtailed until better information is available. Wind opponents say the low frequency humming of the turbines can cause sleeping problems, headaches and anxiety, or so-called “wind turbine syndrome.”
Dr. David Colby, medical health officer in Chatham-Kent, Ont., and a professor of medicine at the University of Western Ontario, said health concerns have been overblown by opponents. There is scientific consensus that setback distances in place in Ontario, some of the most stringent in the world, are more than sufficient. Countless studies and literature reviews have shown there are no direct adverse health effects, though the turbines can be annoying, he said.
“What it all comes down to is basically turbines don’t generate enough acoustic energy to adversely effect human tissue,” Colby said. “You can’t get away from that. The idea that inaudible sound can make you sick is not supported by the scientific community.”
Dr. Robert McMurtry, head of the Society for Wind Vigilance and the former dean of medicine at the University of Western Ontario, said guidelines should be set at more than two kilometres to be safe. He says larger human-scale studies need to be undertaken to determine if there are health effects from turbine exposure.
“At this point the best science says you should be two kilometres away,” McMurtry said. “I’m a clinician. The proponents have not engaged with people who have suffered.”
McKinnon says the guidelines will be re-evaluated if new evidence comes to light.
“If the public is feeling there are effects we need to look into that,” McKinnon said. “There has been an extensive consultation process for these guidelines, but the work doesn’t stop in terms of continually examining the evidence.”
Setting stringent regulations in law instead of industry guidelines is unnecessary, McKinnon said. The province is set to add 175 megawatts of wind power from one or more independent producers who submit bids last year and 25 megawatts from smaller-scale projects. Under the plans, wind power would make up 8.5 per cent of SaskPower’s total generating capacity.
“The way forward is a partnership with industry,” McKinnon said. “The industry is generally willing to comply with guidelines rather than regulations, which involve a lot of taxpayer money.”