While the controversy swirling around wind turbines in Ontario may be a ticking time bomb in the just-begun election campaign, Toronto human-rights lawyer Julian Falconer may have lit the fuse Monday night at a meeting organized by a Plympton-Wyoming community group near Sarnia, a city in southwest Ontario.
Speaking to around 400 people in a community hall, Falconer challenged all three political parties to declare a moratorium on turbine construction until a comprehensive study is completed by the federal health ministry. “None of these parties has done the right thing. A courageous, responsible political leader would put a halt to any more turbine construction, until the Health Canada study is completed,” he told the approving crowd.
Falconer was asked to the meeting by the organizers of a local group fighting plans by energy company Suncor to build 46 wind turbines in their area. The group has convinced their local council to fight Suncor by demanding turbines be placed at least two kilometers (1.2 miles) apart, as opposed to only 550 meters (600 yards), as decreed by Ontario’s Green Energy Act. Suncor took the municipality to court last winter to stop the by-law, claiming the provincial legislation trumps local by-laws. A decision is expected soon, the local mayor told the meeting.
Since the Green Energy Act came into force in 2009, wind developments have sprouted around southern Ontario, and local opposition groups have been fighting them tooth and nail. The Act, meant to promote the growth of alternative energy sources, has created a political backlash which has been credited with partially reducing the governing Liberal party to minority status in 2012. With more than 50 citizen action groups across the province listed on the website of Ontario Wind Resistance, an umbrella organization for wind opponents, the protesters are stepping up for an even bigger fight as a new election gets underway.
Challenging that law on behalf of wind power opponents, even as far as the Supreme Court of Canada, is Falconer’s goal. “It may be ‘a novel argument’ to use the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for this purpose, but if people don’t challenge the Liberal government in court, these turbines will be everywhere,” he told the audience. Section seven of the Charter protects Canadians’ rights to security of the person, and “the courts have recognized that health issues can be one means of being protected,” Falconer told VICE in an interview after his speech.
To effectively challenge turbine construction in Ontario, one has to prove turbines will cause “serious harm to human health,” according to Falconer. Building turbines without clear understanding of health effects is like the government saying, ”if you want to avoid swallowing this pill we’re giving you, you have to prove it won’t kill you,” he said. He hopes to continue building support for the Charter challenge by appealing to other anti-wind groups across the province to join in the coming months.
Wayne Couture, living just south of the Kincardine province of Ontario, told the audience he has been forced to leave his home every day for a year by the effects of living near turbines: dizziness and ringing in his ears. “You have to shut them [turbines] down. You are the guinea pigs,” he warned the group.
Health effects are at the heart of opposition to wind turbines, believes Carman Krough, co-author of a recent article in the Canadian Journal of Rural Medicine that reviewed previous health effects studies. The study found that, if placed too close to residents, industrial wind turbines can negatively affect the physical, mental, and social well-being of people, and that there is sufficient evidence to support the conclusion that noise from turbines is a potential cause of health effects. Formal studies from around the world point to symptoms that repeat, she says—sleep disturbance, feeling of vibrations, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and vertigo.
These studies, along with the personal stories of individuals, leaves Krogh with “no doubt” the effects are real. “You don’t pack up and leave your home lightly,” she says. With a background in “vigilance monitoring” of adverse effects of pharmaceuticals, Krogh found herself applying the same techniques in monitoring people who reported effects from living near turbines, when she experienced headaches after being near the giant towers, she tells VICE.
The effects on children are especially worrying, Krogh says, as they have not been studied very well. There is some evidence that conditions in children such as autism, asthma, migraine, or epilepsy can be affected by turbine noise, and that such effects could possibly by irreversible, she told the audience.
There is “credible scientific support” for a link between noise from turbines and health effects, according to a report commissioned by the Ontario Environment Ministry, Krogh claims—the same ministry that is approving wind projects across the province.
Joining Falconer’s challenge will not come cheaply for the town of Plympton-Wyoming. The group is hoping to raise $300,000 to count themselves in. With a donation of $20,000 from Lambton County Council, and their municipal council already paying legal bills to defend against Suncor, the group is asking the 7,500 residents to dig deep in their own pockets.
They’re hoping the money will give them a chance to avoid the noise and breeze of the wind turbines, while at the same time, they also hope the election will force politicians to feel the wind down their own necks.