Ottawa is drafting guidelines for wind turbine setbacks from homes, apparently using Ontario’s minimum 550-metre separation as a model.
Based on Ontario’s disastrous experiment with wind energy, this is a bad idea.
That’s because the province’s plunge into renewable energy, aside from being a financial disaster as documented by Ontario’s Auditor General, has been a social disaster as well.
Canadians, especially those living in rural areas, should be on guard from the moment provincial governments and wind developers show up in their communities touting the joys of wind.
Ontario took away the rights of municipalities to plan for or regulate industrial wind turbines under Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Green Energy Act. Chaos ensued.
Communities were torn apart – neighbours cashing in by leasing land to wind developers for turbine construction, against neighbours forced to live in the shadow of the mega-structures.
The province received hundreds of complaints about health problems caused by turbines – and suppressed them.
In the 2011 election, the Liberals lost their majority largely due to the controversy.
During the election, the CBC reported government documents released under Freedom of Information showed environment ministry staff issued internal warnings the province needed stricter rural noise limits on turbines, that it had no reliable way to monitor or enforce them and that computer models for determining setbacks were flawed.
Instead, the government (and the wind industry, which often cites its own studies in support) pointed to a report by Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, who found no “direct links” between turbines and ill health.
But Dr. Robert McMurtry, an orthopedic surgeon and former dean of medicine at the University of Western Ontario, argued the province hasn’t done a proper, independent study on the health effects of wind turbines.
He cited medical evidence, re-enforced by patient complaints, that low-frequency noise from turbines can cause chronic sleeplessness, stress and hypertension.
Head of the Society for Wind Vigilance, McMurtry has said until the province does proper research, the setback for new turbines should be at least two kilometres.
Dr. Irvin Wolkoff, a psychiatrist who has testified as an expert witness on the relationship between noise and stress, said health concerns go beyond low-frequency noise and vibration. (Wolkoff is a friend, but his views on this issue are his own.)
He said it’s well-established prolonged exposure to unwanted noise can cause sleeplessness, irritability, impaired functioning and can trigger the release of excess adrenaline and hydrocortisone.
Adrenaline raises blood pressure and can lead to arteriosclerosis, heart problems and stroke. Hydrocortisone suppresses the immune system, resulting in a greater risk of infections, even cancer.
The government’s argument turbine noise is typically the equivalent of “a quiet library” is irrelevant.
“When it comes to noise, the two main ‘stressors’ are whether it’s meaningful or meaningless to the person hearing it, and whether that individual can control it,” Wolkoff said.
That’s why it doesn’t bother your neighbour when he plays his favourite record loudly but it can bother you.
The sound is meaningful to him and he controls it, but it’s not meaningful to you and you can’t.
Similarly, wind turbine noise may not bother the farmer who leased his land to a developer, but can adversely affect his neighbour just down the road.
Wolkoff said it’s pointless for people living in areas without turbines – like cities – to stand under a moving turbine and declare the sound doesn’t bother them (as some reporters have) because they know they can leave, unlike people who don’t have a choice.
Families suffering from adverse health effects from turbines often end up selling their homes to wind developers, after signing confidentiality agreements preventing them from talking.
All in all, not the best model for Ottawa to emulate.