The war over Ontario wind turbines is shifting to the courts, with property values brandished as the main weapon by opponents of the multi-billion-dollar provincial push to develop wind farms.
Toronto lawyer Eric Gillespie said he has lawsuits in the works from 10 different parts of Ontario and is in talks with at least three other groups in its southwest.
“That number is growing quite rapidly,” Gillespie said Thursday.
“Currently, we have either filed claims or are about to file claims that go all the way from Windsor to Ottawa.”
Lawsuits have already been launched in Chatham-Kent, LaSalle, Prince Edward County, Clearview/Creemore and the Stayner area.
Another lawsuit is in the works involving wind turbines in the Port Dover area.
“Property devaluation is clearly becoming a major concern right across Ontario,” said Gillespie.
The shift to fighting in the courts follows a failed campaign by anti-wind forces in last year’s Ontario’s election – the McGuinty Liberals eked out a minority government, despite losing rural seats where opposition is strongest – to stop wind-turbine development.
Southwestern Ontario, home to Ontario’s largest wind projects, is one of the key battlegrounds.
While wind opponents helped to defeat key Liberal candidates, including environment minister John Wilkinson in Perth-Wellington and agriculture minister Carol Mitchell in Huron-Bruce, they fell short of their ultimate goal – to bring down the McGuinty government.
The new legal strategy is one that pits rural landowner against rural landowner.
The lawsuits not only seek millions of dollars in damages from the large corporate wind farm developers who have deep pockets to fight legal battles, but also from the farm owners who have leased out their land for the turbines.
The legal action against individual farmers could create a chill for landowners considering wind turbines on their property, said Gary Zavitz, a London-area wind energy advocate and co-founder of the pro-wind group Friends of Wind Ontario,
How deep that chill goes will largely depend on the early outcome of the legal cases, said Zavitz, noting wind opponents have had little litigation success so far.
“There is definitely some concern about that,” he said. “There are hundreds, if not thousands of stakeholders in this that are patiently waiting to see if their project gets approved.”
Most landowners want to do the right thing, he said.
“They want to do what is right for the environment and sustainability. They also want to get an additional stream of revenue for their land and they want to be a good neighbour.”
The assertion that wind turbines lower property values is hotly contested.
A recent study by London appraiser Ben Lansink, who’s provided evaluations for turbine opponents, found land values near turbines in the Shelburne and Norfolk County area fell by as much as 58% and averaged more than 30%.
That study, which traced the sale of individual properties, has been dismissed by Friends of Wind Ontario and Ontario Highlands Friends of Wind Power.
“While he may turn up some isolated examples of property devaluation, Lansink has failed to show that wind turbines have widespread negative impact on property values,” said an analysis of Lansink’s study released by Friends of Wind Power.
It may take a judge and jury to finally decide the issue.
LAWSUITS – THE NEW FRONT:
— Some owners argue turbines have cut their property values or made them impossible to sell.
— They want damages from wind farm developers and landowners with turbines.
— Turbine proponents reject the reduced property value argument.
BIG WIND IN ONTARIO
Ontario is now Canada’s largest wind-energy producer, with 2,020 megawatts of capacity. How it got there:
2003: Province had 10 wind turbines.
2012: 1,200 turbines.
More: Another 1,000 given early approval.
Future: Estimates of 6,500, with all proposals and plans.
–John Miner, The London Free Press
— – —
New U.S. health study arms anti-wind activists
They live in the shadow of wind farms and their stories of turbine-induced illness have been brushed aside by the wind industry, Ontario regulators and the province’s Liberal government.
But now, researchers have published the first-ever, peer-reviewed study linking wind turbines and ill health – giving opponents of wind turbines their heaviest arsenal in a fight that could shape the landscape of rural Ontario and perhaps political fortunes in the next election.
“I view it as a huge step forward. It definitely gives credibility to our case,” said Esther Wrightman, who’s led a crusade against 70 wind turbines west of Strathroy.
The study, published in the periodical Noise & Health, found that a random sample of residents living within 1.4 km of wind turbines in two Maine communities suffered more from impaired mental health and sleep deprivation than those who lived at least 3.3 km away.
That was their finding, even though most of the closer residents had welcomed the turbines because they came with a financial benefit.
While the study looked at Americans, the epidemiologist who created it is a Guelph resident who worked eight years for Health Canada.
Jeffery Aramini says he’s not eager to cross swords with public health officials – Aramini’s company does business with the provincial and federal governments, helping them, for example, to monitor certain diseases based on pharmacy records.
But while public health officials in Ontario generally do well by the provinces’s residents, when it comes to wind turbines, those officials have had a major blind spot, he said.
While the peer-review study this month is the first, there’s a growing number of people reporting illness near wind farms, Aramini said.
“The reality is that some people are getting sick,” he said. “As a public health person I can’t wrap my head around (government’s inaction).”
Regulators and Liberal politicians have pushed for wind power by pointing to a report by Ontario’s Chief Medical officer of Health, Dr. Arlene King, who two years ago dismissed health concerns in part because there were no peer-reviewed studies showing a link between turbines and illness.
“Published papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals (carry) more weight in the assessment of health risks than case studies and anecdotal reports,” she wrote.
Asked Thursday if the study would cause her to re-assess, King declined to be interviewed, directing questions to the Environment Ministry.
When The Free Press asked why King would pass off a question to someone without expertise in public health, she had a Health Ministry spokesperson reply instead.
“This (new study) has not changed the conclusions of (King’s) report,” a ministry spokesperson emailed.
King’s reply drew an angry reaction from Wrightman: “She’s passing the buck . . . That is just ridiculous.”
Much quicker to respond was the lobby group for the wind industry, the Canadian Wind Energy Association.
“The balance of scientific, medical and human experience to date clearly demonstrates that sound from wind turbines does not adversely impact human health,” association spokesperson Chris Forrest said.
The comment was dismissed as self-interest by the head of a consortium of community groups opposed to industrial wind farms, Jane Wilson of Wind Concerns Ontario.
“We’ve been waiting for this study for a long time – it’s just amazing.”
HEALTH EFFECTS – OLD FRONT, NEW SKIRMISH:
— Health Canada is conducting a study whose design is being finalized
— A peer-reviewed study finds those close to wind turbines suffer ill health effects.
— Ontario’s chief medical officer says studies through 2010 show no “direct, causal” link between turbines and health.
–Jonathan Sher, The London Free Press