There is a turbine for every 23 people in Melancthon, and if another proposed wind farm receives the green light, that ratio could change to one for every 17 residents.
For that reason, Melancthon council wants its residents included in a provincially funded University of Waterloo study into renewable energy, and Health Canada’s probe into the potential effect of turbines on people’s health.
“We’re pioneers in wind power, whether we like it not. We were the first ones in Ontario,” said Mayor Bill Hill.
“At this particular point in time, we’re the largest commercial wind farm in the province.”
During the next five years, the university study, headed by chair Dr. Siva Sivoththaman, will receive $1.5 million from the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) through the Council of Ontario Universities to research potential health effects associated with renewable energy in Haldimand, Norfolk and Bruce counties, among other areas.
The study research is to be independent of the MOE.
“(MOE) may not have input into the details of the study and that is fine,” Hill said. “But it’s your tax dollars and my tax dollars funding this.”
Melancthon is home to 118 turbines – 111 are part of the TransAlta wind facility, the other seven belong to the Plateau wind project centred in nearby Grey Highlands. If Dufferin Wind Power’s plan to construct another 49-turbine wind farm is approved, Melancthon’s stock will rise to 167.
Noticing his municipality’s name wasn’t identified in the study’s scope, Hill wrote Sivoththaman on Aug. 9 to urge local inclusion. Arran-Elderslie Deputy Mayor Mark Davis, chair of the Multi-Municipal Wind Turbine Working Group, agrees with him.
“They’ve had turbines there for quite some time. There’s something to be learned there,” he said. “There are people down there, their lives are a misery. It has to be looked into.”
The university study will also look into potential health issues caused by biogas and solar facilities.
According to the study’s epidemiologist, Phil Bigelow, Melancthon’s wind farms are on the study researchers’ radar.
“We’re likely getting to Melancthon,” he said, noting which communities will be studied hasn’t been finalized. “We’re just not sure of the extent of it.”
Coining Melancthon as the turbine per capita capital of Ontario, Hill is pushing for its inclusion in the university study, as well as the federal government’s plan to conduct one through Health Canada.
In July, Health Canada announced its study would focus on a sample of 2,000 households selected from eight to 12 wind turbine facilities across Canada, but researchers remain mum on where information will be gathered.
“They’re not really in a position to provide that information for fear it might bias the results,” said Health Canada spokesperson Gary Holub. “Based on the concern around sampling bias, we wanted to keep that information confidential.”
Health Canada study participants will be chosen based on proximity to existing wind farms, and asked to fill out face-to-face health questionnaires. Agency officials will measure noise levels, including low frequency noise, both in and outside of participants’ homes.
“Study locations, timing and survey components will be made available on the Health Canada website upon completion,” Holub said. “It’s entirely up to a resident to agree to participate or not.”
While inclusion in studies is one thing, accurate results are another. Davis noted the Multi-Municipal Turbine Working Group has “reservations” about both studies, and how their perimeters could dictate any findings.
Referring to the list of people involved with Health Canada’s study for example, Davis claimed some have spoke at pro-wind energy conferences. To the best of Davis’ knowledge, the study would include residents living up to five kilometres away from wind turbines.
He wants to see that refined to people living up to two kilometres away. From his perspective, a five-kilometre radius could skew the results.
“Right off the top, you’re going to get a huge percentage that aren’t affected,” Davis, who is the livestock and cattle business, said. “When we have a herd of cattle get sick, we tend to focus on the sick ones, not the healthy ones.”
Another question is will Health Canada speak to those who’ve left their homes and signed agreements with wind farm developers, or given “gag orders,” in Davis’ words.
“The sickest people – are they going to be automatically excluded,” he asked. “Is the federal government going to override that gag order, so the people can actually say ‘OK, this is what is going on?’”
That doesn’t fall under Health Canada’s domain. Holub said researchers conducting the study, which will be based on “voluntary” participation, wouldn’t be privy to any such agreements.
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