Health safeguards are “baked right in” to the Ontario process for wind turbine applications, a lawyer for the province said Wednesday.
Lawyer Matthew Horner told a panel of three judges Wednesday it’s not correct to suggest the province is violating turbine neighbours’ constitutional right to live free from government harm.
“The safety aspect is baked right in with the regulations . . . instead of an ad hoc, application-by-application process,” Horner said.
He disputed lawyer Julian Falconer’s argument that the province’s approvals process is unconstitutional.
It’s the first anti-turbine case with a constitutional challenge to reach Ontario divisional court. And it’s being watched throughout Ontario, where thousands of turbines are in place or planned.
Many of the 50 people in the courtroom had driven through snowstorms from Huron, Bruce and Lambton counties or stayed overnight in hotels to hear the third day of arguments.
Clinton-area farmer Luke Schilder, for example, started his barn chores at 4 a.m. and was at court for 11 a.m. in the hope of hearing he might not have to put up with proposed turbines near his farm.
Falconer represents four families in Huron and Bruce counties whose homes are close to dozens of proposed turbines.
They say turbines pose a potential serious health impact – including dizziness, headaches, heart palpitations and other illness – and that placing them close to homes violates their constitutional rights.
On the other side is the province and three wind companies.
For the government side, Horner said the Green Energy Act process is much better than the patchwork process that once existed.
They include a minimum 550-metre turbine setback from homes, environmental screening and checklists and guarantees of safe noise levels that put human health front and centre, he said.
“This is not a (regulatory) regime that causes harm to human health. This is a regime that is protective of human health,” Horner said.
Nor is the government depriving them of life, liberty or personal security, he said.
“The legislation isn’t preventing anyone from doing anything,” and has a suitable process to give people the right to challenge turbines, he said.
Falconer had argued the annoyance factor of turbines was enough to cause significant distress and health issues. But Horner said annoyances are ubiquitous in modern society, including traffic noise, but that doesn’t qualify as unconstitutional, “serious harm.”
Colleague Sarah Wright said there’s an administrative process in place through the Environmental Review Tribunals to address residents’ concerns, a process that makes this appeal to the judges unnecessary.
The three-judge panel is to hear a fourth day of arguments Thursday, from lawyers for wind energy companies. Part of the argument is expected to be a request that the judges stay the proceedings.
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