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Board steers clear of wind moratorium

Bluewater school trustees are staying away from the politics surrounding wind energy.

A motion from Trustee Kevin Larson asking to halt industrial wind turbine development in Ontario, until health studies are completed and analyzed, went down to a 6-4 defeat Tuesday night in Chesley.

“It’s a very hot political item,” Bruce Peninsula trustee Terry Bell said. “Unless we’ve got some definitive evidence that it’s affecting our students, which we don’t have, then I don’t think we can make any wild statement about the pros and cons of these devices.”

Owen Sound trustee Marg Gaviller agreed. There is “no concrete evidence” of harm from the turbines, she said.

“It has become a political issue and because of that, as a public school board, we cannot support one side of a political issue.”

Municipal councils, farm organizations and opposition Conservative MPPs critical of The Green Energy Act have been demanding a moratorium on wind development.

Larson, the Saugeen Shores/Arran-Elderslie trustee, said both those local municipal councils have passed motions demanding a moratorium.

The Education Act requires trustees to act in the interest of student achievement and student well-being he told the meeting before the vote, citing a long list of alleged harmful effects on people living close to the turbines.

Heart palpitations, high blood pressure, earaches, sore eyes, headaches, nosebleeds and sleeplessness are among documented symptoms, Larson said.

“If there is a question about the health effects on children, we should be asking those questions,” Larson said.

Other trustees pointed to a report earlier that night from the board’s safety office, Ron Motz, who said only one turbine is close to schools, the smaller, controversial machine at Port Elgin’s CAW centre. It’s not online yet, and once it becomes active is too far from the school to measure any impact, Motz told the board.

Motz said the required setback for industrial wind turbines is aimed at keeping sound levels below 40 decibels. He measured background noise alone at the nearest school, Saugeen Central, at 43 decibels, and 60 during nutrition break when students were outside. The school is about 1,200 metres from the new turbine at the CAW Family Education Centre.

At that distance, and with the background noise and from students, sound from the turbine would make no difference, when it is turned on.

“To try to tease out the effect of turbine from that distance wouldn’t be possible,” Motz said. There are no plans to monitor sound once it goes online next month.

The CAW turbine has become a focus of wind turbine opposition, with about 300 people from around rural Ontario rallying there last weekend to highlight concerns over Liberal green energy policies.

Larson said his motion was not about that turbine, but about concern over future projects.

“This motion is not about politics and its also not about the economics of producing wind energy,” he said. “It’s about more of those things going up near our schools, if their children are sick, coming to our schools, it is our issue.”

Also Tuesday, the executive-director of Physicians for the Environment told trustees wind energy is far safer than both nuclear and coal power.

Gideon Foreman, whose organization represents 500 Canadian physicians and citizens across Canada, said the group’s goal is to enhance human health by protecting the environment. He spoke as a delegation earlier in the meeting.

“When you compare wind to the other ways of making power you’ll see that wind is much, much safer, both for human health and for the environment.”

Unlike burning coal, wind power does not cause smog, climate change, cancer, acid rain or brain damage, Foreman said.

“Wind isn’t perfect but it is much, much safer.”

Trustees made no reference to Foreman’s brief presentation, other than Larson who thanked him for the information.

After the meeting, Larson said he was disappointed but had to respect the majority vote.

“I got the best modern research I could, from the last couple of years, but it was not enough to carry the day,” he said.