The emotionally and politically charged wind turbine debate in Ontario has just ramped up several notches as Health Canada launches a study of the human health impact of turbine noise.
The federal department will examine how low-frequency turbine sound affects nearby residents.
It aims to paint “a more complete picture of the potential health impacts of wind turbine noise,” federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said.
The announcement comes as turbine giant NextEra plans a series of meetings this week and next about three proposed wind farms that will total 178 turbines in Lambton and northwest Middlesex counties.
Samsung plans another meeting this week regarding 142 turbines north of Goderich.
All told, more than 6,000 turbines are proposed or planned for Ontario.
Word of the study immediately prompted the Ontario Tories and the province’s anti-turbine coalition to demand the provincial Liberals place a moratorium on wind projects.
Turbines are a key element of the province’s green energy policy.
The policy is designed to draw on renewable power sources beyond fossil fuels and nuclear energy.
Ontario Energy Minister Chris Bentley said the provincial Liberals’ green energy decisions are made on the best available international research.
“We are very much basing our approach on the advice we’ve received that’s out there,” he said, adding that he looks forward to the results of the federal health study.
Bentley said the upcoming study won’t have any bearing on the rollout of new rules this summer on alternative-energy production.
Thousands of turbines are planned in Ontario, with multi-national companies planning to invest billions in the technology of manufacturing turbine components and erecting them on site.
Opponents – who come out in force at the various open houses and public meetings – have said turbines can cause a host of human health problems in addition to having an impact on bird migration and farm operations.
Esther Wrightman, protesting at NextEra open houses Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons in Ailsa Craig, was pleasantly surprised by the announcement.
The increase in the number of turbines in Ontario, Nova Scotia and Quebec has led to growing concern, she said.
“They’re having problems across the board. More turbines, more problems.”
One couple initially skeptical of the health impact became believers when a wind farm was built near their Watford home with experience of vertigo, tinnitus and higher stress because of the noise, Wrightman said.
Jane Wilson, who heads Wind Concerns Ontario, said some people exposed to low-frequency noise – also called infrasound – experience symptoms that include sleep disturbance and migraine headaches.
The province’s impending release of new rules and tariffs for green energy is likely to spark “another gold rush” of solar and wind developers, she said.
“We’re hoping (the Health Canada study) gives Ontario pause.”
In a news release, Aglukkaq said, “Health Canada is aware of health-related complaints from individuals living in close proximity to wind turbine establishments. The study is being designed with support from external experts, specializing in areas including noise, health assessment, clinical medicine and epidemiology.”
Study participants will be drawn from near a dozen turbine facilities in Canada. Research will include blood-pressure monitoring, hair sampling and face-to-face interviews with residents living in about 2,000 homes that are 500 metres to five kilometres away from turbines.
By 2025, it’s expected that 20% of Canada’s energy will be generated by wind turbines.
But Health Canada is making no claims that its research will be the definitive study of health impacts, in a field awash with contradictory data.
Instead, its website says, the results “will contribute to the body of peer-reviewed scientific research examining the health impacts of wind turbine noise.”
Study results are expected to be published in 2014.
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Wind turbines and noise:
— Noise, produced by the motor or gearbox; if functioning correctly, mechanical noise from modern turbines shouldn’t be an issue.
— Aerodynamic noise, produced by wind passing over the turbine blade and passage of the blades in front of tower.
— some people living near turbines report vertigo, nausea, tinnitus, high blood pressure, stress, sleeplessness. Effects might be particularly noticeable in rural areas where background and human-made sound levels are usually lower.
— there is limited peer-reviewed scientific research; some studies have been criticized for poor methodology.
Source: Health Canada
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What they said
“There’s really not enough science to back up the policy.”
–Jane Wilson of Wind Concerns Ontario
“For us, it’s always health first.”
–Ontario Energy Minister Chris Bentley
Wind power has been “a dismal failure” for Ontarians.
–MPP Vic Fedeli, energy critic for the Progressive Conservatives
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