Local farmers Shawn and Tricia Drennan brought their fight against the approved K2 Power wind project to Lucknow this week.
An Ontario environmental review tribunal (ERT) is hearing the Drennan’s appeal of the 140-turbine project’s approval – granted by the Ministry of the Environment on July 23.
The Drennans live on a 300-acre farm in the Township of Ashfield-Colborne-Wawanosh south of Lucknow where they finish pigs and grow cash crops. Their farm has been in their family since 1922.
If the project goes ahead, one of the turbines will be within 650 metres of their home and another 11 within two kilometres. A 270 MW substation would be built just 500 metres away.
The Drennans are concerned about reported health effects of wind turbines and want a moratorium on the K2 project until studies can be conducted to better understand their impact on human health.
Residents suffering from insomnia, ringing in the ears, headaches, and heart palpitations have for years inundated government ministries, local boards of health and newspaper opinion pages with pleas for help.
Those complaints and the lack of understanding surrounding potential causes of the reported symptoms have sparked a backlash of resentment and activism echoed across the province, dividing communities into anti-wind and pro-wind camps.
“There is no real set understanding how these things are going to affect people,” said Shawn Drennan, in an interview Sunday. “We aren’t guinea pigs.”
Health Canada started a study in May investigating the impact of low-frequency noise and vibrations from wind turbines, expected to be published in 2014.
The Environmental Protection Act (EPA) allows opponents to appeal approved renewable energy projects to an ERT. Successful appeals must show a project will cause “serious harm to human health,” or “serious and irreversible harm to plant life, animal life or the natural environment.”
That has proved difficult. All ERT decisions to date have held that effects of wind turbines do not meet the legal test of harm.
In the first appeal to reach an ERT mounted to stop the Kent Breeze Wind Farm in 2011, the panel found “legitimate concerns and uncertainties about the effects of wind turbines on human health” but – because of a lack of peer-reviewed research – could not conclude that turbines would significantly harm either human health or the environment.
In another failed challenge, opponents argued the “nocebo effect” – where people feel sick because they believe the turbines are harmful – should justify blocking a Chatham-Kent turbine installation. The ERT rejected that argument and said the EPA requires opponents establish a direct and objective causation of harm.
The Ontario government maintains there is no evidence showing direct cause between turbines and the reported health effects. They cite a report published in 2011 from Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Arlene King, which found “the scientific evidence available to date does not demonstrate a direct causal link between wind turbine noise and adverse health effects.”
Many other studies have failed to find any direct causation for the reported symptoms but at least one medical officer of health, Grey-Bruce’s Dr. Hazel Lynn, has acknowledged a relationship and called for increased setbacks and further study.
The ERT hearings are the Drennan’s latest effort to stop the K2 turbines. They have filed injunctions and claimed damages in court and helped found the anti-wind group Safe Wind Energy for All Residents (SWEAR).
In September 2011, they asked the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to invalidate the non-disclosure agreements signed by former Ripley-area residents as part of a buyout by Suncor-Acciona – the operator of the 38-turbine Ripley wind project. Their application argued the “gag orders” made it impossible to gather information about adverse health effects and were fundamentally against the public interest.
They returned to court in September 2012 and challenged the K2 project on grounds it violates their right to “security of the person” under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The court filing says the installation of turbines close to their home has the potential to cause serious health effects, including sleep disturbance, cardiovascular disease, headaches, dizziness and psychological illness. They asked the court for an injunction to halt the wind farm project until the completion of the Health Canada study announced a few months earlier.
In a written decision handed down in May, the court said the injunction request was “premature” and told the Drennans to wait for K2’s approval and follow the appeal process defined in the EPA.
So here they are, making their Charter argument to the ERT at hearings held in the Lucknow arena.
If the Drennan’s are successful – either in front of the tribunal or back in court – they will set a precedent, potentially halting further wind turbine development across the province.
K2 Wind Ontario is a limited partnership between Capital Power LP, Samsung Renewable Energy Inc., and Pattern Renewable Holdings Canada ULC.
The turbines will be located on property leased from approximately 90 landowners and is adjacent to Capital Power’s 22-turbine Kingsbridge 1 wind farm operating since 2006.
Construction was expected to begin in 2013 with commercial operation beginning in 2015, but the tribunal and pending court proceedings have delayed that schedule.
K2 announced last year they will pay landowners with homes within one kilometre of a turbine or other project infrastructure $1,500 each year of the project’s operation – an attempt to share the spoils with residents not leasing their property, and a response to recommendations from Dr. Arlene King and an earlier ERT that financial participation may dull claims of illness.
The company emphasizes the economic impact the project will have on the township in its sales pitch, touting 300 construction jobs over the 18 months to erect the turbines and another 18 to 24 permanent employees during operation. They project the project will generate $450,000 in property taxes for the township and another $1.9 million into the pockets of landowners.
In addition, K2 Power will pay the township $700,000 a year over the course of the project.
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