CLARINGTON – When people buy a home in the green fields of rural Clarington, they don’t picture themselves living next to 150-metre wind turbines.
But that’s exactly what will happen to families in the east end of the municipality if plans for two wind farms go ahead.
These local projects are sparking debate.
On one hand, there are residents concerned about a provincial system that pushes the projects ahead without local input and what many worry is a lack of conclusive independent research into possible health impacts.
“We’re fighting for the health of our family and we’re not going to give up,” said Heather Rutherford, a mother and school teacher now in a new role of activist and community organizer as the founder of Clarington Wind Concerns. “We’re concerned about the health and wealth of our community. It’s the people in our community that make it what it is.”
On the other side is the need for renewable green energy sources and a supplemental income for struggling farmers.
“Guys, we want to turn on the lights. We want to have the best. To do that we have to invest in the future. Ontario is taking a big step,” said Charles Edey, president of Leader Resources Services Corp., the company building five turbines in Port Granby.
So do wind turbines make people sick?
Ontario wind turbine researcher Carmen Krogh, who did a survey with 130 respondents living near wind farms, believes they are making people ill. She said there were common reports of sleep disturbances, headaches, nausea, cognitive, cardiac and vision problems.
“It’s like a red alert or a red flag. It shows something is going on. The symptoms are very compelling because they’re reported worldwide,” said Ms. Krogh.
Wind farm companies highlight a recent Massachusetts study that found no causal link between wind turbines and health. In 2010, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health conducted a study of adverse health effects associated with wind turbines and said they don’t make people sick.
“There’s annoyance and people get ill because they have annoyance. We do not have hundreds of people sick from wind turbines,” said Mr. Edey, who added the coal plants that wind energy is replacing were doing considerably more damage to human health.
In July, the federal government announced a Health Canada research study that will explore the relationship between wind turbine noise and health effects reported by, and objectively measured in, people living near wind power developments.
It’s a move welcomed by both sides of the debate.
Wind farm companies think it will put to rest the worries about their business.
Worried residents think it is the answer to their concerns that the 550-metre setbacks for wind turbines aren’t far enough from homes.
“If our health was impacted and we had to leave our house – which is our biggest asset – would we be able to sell it?” said Ms. Rutherford. “The study needs to be done to inform the setbacks. We need evidence-based setbacks.”
She said she is worried the Ontario government is moving ahead with the planned wind farms while the federal government studies the issue.
“Once the turbines are up, they’re not coming down,” said Ms. Rutherford, who said she’s not anti-wind energy but is against industrial wind turbines in rural communities. “There’s been no move to call a moratorium.”
For years, Clarington council has been asking the Province to impose a moratorium on the approval of any wind farm applications until further studies can be done on the possible health and economic impacts.
Ontario’s Green Energy Act took control for these projects out of the hands of municipalities. The Province approved the new alternative energy and had control over safety regulations.
Changes this year, which give municipalities greater input on future projects, come too late to impact the two wind farms planned for rural Clarington.
Clarington not only has concerns for its rural residents, but also for the Darlington nuclear plant, a major employer in the area. Mayor Adrian Foster said he disliked the idea of provincial money funding a switch from good-paying nuclear jobs to largely unmanned, less reliable wind energy.
“You’re spending billions of dollars on infrastructure that works 30 per cent of the time and displacing nuclear and hydro energy,” said Mayor Foster.
Mr. Edey said Leader will use as much local labour as possible in the construction of the wind turbines. The new turbines are more efficient (once installed, approximately 45 per cent of the time the blades are turning at capacity) and therefore can produce more energy with fewer turbines, according to Leader.
“They’re asking me how a model T runs and right now I’m driving a push button start (car). We’re not dealing with the same technology,” said Mr. Edey.