Documents released through a Freedom of Information request from an Orangeville resident reveal the government was aware of adverse health effects caused by industrial wind turbines as far back as 2006.
While Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak says he is not shocked to learn the government kept this information from the public in relation to the 200-megaWatt Melancthon EcoPower Centre (located in Amaranth and Melancthon Township, near Shelburne, Ont.), he says he is disappointed.
“I wasn’t surprised. Concerns have been raised across Ontario and in other jurisdictions,” says Hudak, whose own riding of Niagara West-Glanbrook is poised for the installation of several industrial wind turbines.
“What it is, is disappointing. It appears as through they were trying to cover something up.”
In the released document, ministry officials report “complaints of adverse health effects by area residents are for the most part justified.
“MOE Provincial Officers have attended at several of the complainant’s [sic] residences and have confirmed that despite the noise emissions apparently complying with the applicable standard … that the noise emissions are in fact causing material discomfort to the residents in and around their homes,” reads the document, written by provincial officer Gary Tomlinson.
According to the ministry, to develop the guidelines for noise limits, ministry scientists and engineers consulted with local community members and noise experts including representatives from major acoustical consulting firms. At the time of the Melancthon project, there were no minimum setback distances, only a provincial noise guideline of 40 decibels, which was maintained in the Act.
The documents state that “at least two families have moved out of their homes due to noise impacts” and that the MOE was aware of “at least six cases where the wind developer bought out resident’s [sic] homes to address and silence their ongoing concerns.”
Tomlinson writes, “reasonable people do not leave their homes to sleep elsewhere for frivolous reasons.”
Melancthon is Canada’s largest wind energy installation to date. Construction on phase one began in 2005, and phase two was completed in 2007. The project has a capacity close to 200 megawatts – roughly 30 megawatts less than the largest project proposed for West Lincoln by Niagara Region Wind Corp.
The Melancthon EcoPower Centre, made up of 133 turbines, was approved before the province passed its controversial Green Energy Act. The Act established a minimum setback distance of 550 metres between residential dwellings and turbines, which is 100 metres more than the minimum setback distance used in the Melancthon project.
Projects approved prior to the passing of the GEA had to meet provincial noise guidelines but the setback distance was to be negotiated between the developer and municipality.
The Melancthon turbines, however, are much smaller than those proposed for parts of West Lincoln. NRWC is proposing to erect 77, three-megaWatt turbines designed by Japanese manufacturer Enercon, which is building facilities in Niagara to manufacture both the towers and electrical components. Fourty-four of those turbines will be built in West Lincoln, three in Wainfleet and 31 in nearby Haldimand County. The concrete towers of these turbines measure to a maximum of 145 metres to the hub, about the length of 13 school buses stacked bumper to bumper. The blades stretch close to 50 metres, roughly another five school buses across.
The turbines used in the Melancthon project are 1.5 megawatts and are manufactured by GE. They measure 80 metres in height, with blades nearly 40 metres long.
While some local residents claim Enercon suggests a greater setback distance for the model being used by NRWC, a company spokesperson said she was unaware of it.
“Enercon has to sign off on everything we put forward,” said Randi Rahamim. “They have signed off on the full design.”
Hudak’s colleague, Huron-Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson, wants to know why the government moved ahead with the Green Energy Act when it was aware of health concerns.
“I’m absolutely disgusted,” said Thompson, who is the PC energy critic. “It’s sad, because, at the end of the day, it hurts that the Liberal government chose to play word games with people’s health. It comes back to my point of how and why did this Liberal government become so arrogant that they can blatantly play with people’s health just to further their own agenda.”
Thompson was further disappointed with the response from Ontario’s environment minister, St. Catharines MPP Jim Bradley, to a letter she sent to him Jan. 9 in light of the FOI information.
“His response was that there is no direct impact,” said Thompson. “Of course, the odds of a blade falling off and hitting someone are rare. But too many people have come forward with concerns, and their complaints have gone nowhere.
“This further emphasizes the need for a moratorium, which I have tabled twice now,” said the MPP whose own riding not only includes the Bruce Power nuclear energy plant but is poised to see 1,700-1,800 wind turbines primarily along the shoreline of Lake Huron.
Thompson said her office is getting ready to table a motion when the house resumes Feb. 19.
“I will continue to put forward efforts to make this government accountable,” said Thompson. “I am not going to let go of these redacted documents… They point to a larger problem of this Liberal government: it doesn’t matter who is in charge, hiding things and driving its own agenda on the taxpayer’s back. It’s got to stop.”
Despite several attempts to reach Bradley, he did not provide comment on the recently revealed document. His press secretary did provide the following: “The ministry is aware of health concerns and has reviewed literature on the potential impacts of wind turbines, including the 2010 report from Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health which found there is no scientific evidence of a direct causal link between wind turbine noise and adverse health effects.
“The ministry will continue to review emerging scientific and engineering studies to ensure Ontario’s requirements remain in line with the best available science.”
The FOI documents pertain to an abatement plan the ministry put in place in relation to the Melancthon project. The ministry worked with both the municipality and wind developer to address concerns which resulted in several turbines being shut off at night and sound barriers being built around a transformer.
Hudak says it appeared ministry staff were trying to be forthcoming in their reports but that the government withheld that information.
“We need a moratorium on these projects,” said Hudak. “It’s been a position that I took up shortly after I became leader in 2009 for a number of reasons.”
Hudak’s issues with the Green Energy Act range from “expensive studies which fail basic economic sense” to how it strips away the decision-making powers of local governments.
Hudak and his PC government have called for several moratoriums on wind projects. In April 2010, at Queen’s Park, Hudak brought forward a bill to halt industrial wind turbine development. In March 2011, he was joined by West Lincoln Mayor Doug Joyner and Wainfleet Mayor April Jeffs at West Lincoln township hall to renew that call. This past June he was joined by his federal counterpart in the riding, MP Dean Allison, in demanding an immediate moratorium on industrial wind turbine development until a federal health study is complete.
Several other PC MPPs, including Thompson, have tabled similar motions.
The PC party will be introducing another motion when legislature resumes, both Hudak and Thompson confirmed.
“Lisa Thompson, in her capacity, brought forward motions in legislature for a moratorium. We will do that again, now that the house is back in after four months of inaction,” said Hudak, who has met with new Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.
“We discussed ideas for job creation and balancing the books. One recommendation I made was a moratorium on these types of projects,” Hudak said. “I’ve brought it to the premier, I hope she takes my advice.
“I’m not going to give up,” said Hudak. “I’m going to keep fighting for what I think is the right thing to do.”
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