If UNIFOR has not released results of voluntary tests of noise levels generated by its Port Elgin wind turbine within six months, Saugeen Shores Council wants the province to force mandatory testing to determine, once and for all, if it is operating within provincial limits.
Although UNIFOR, formerly CAW, promised regular noise testing during the first two years of turbine operation – it went into service in 2013 – and the Owen Sound office of the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) directed the testing be done, only last month did UNIFOR offer to conduct an acoustic audit, this spring.
When Freedom of Information requests made by Saugeen Shores Turbine Operation Policy (STOP) revealed approximately 300 noise complaints – mostly health and sleep disturbance issues – and the possibility that noise levels had been exceeded, Saugeen Shores Deputy-Mayor Luke Charbonneau asked for definitive proof.
At the Feb. 29 council meeting he accused the MOECC of “not wholesomely enforcing the laws…” and choosing not to order a mandatory audit, after promising the public that the turbine would operate within approved noise emission levels.
“And we have no way of demonstrating whether this thing is [in compliance], in spite of all these complaints, and it is unacceptable,” Charbonneau said, adding it is a problem with MOECC.
He said if UNIFOR does not voluntarily do the testing, the MOECC needs to “finally step up and order it done…” to certify the turbine is operating according to provincial legislation.
Vice-Deputy Mayor Diane Huber, who seconded the motion, said the audit “just makes sense.”
“It is about time we asked for it, and demanded it, and it seems to be in the works, but if it doesn’t happen, we [should] remind the province it is within [its] right to demand that it happen, and we need that information,” she said, adding it is “glaringly obvious” there are no realistic numbers to base a noise assessment on.
Mayor Mike Smith noted that when the turbine was first commissioned the Town asked the CAW to give the Town the resources to do the acoustic testing, but was refused.
“It is very disturbing, and the [MOECC officials] continue to say … that we don’t know if they’re in compliance… and you’re right Deputy-Mayor [Huber], we have no way to know if they are in compliance until an acoustic audit is completed,” Smith said.
In a delegation prior to the Council debate, STOP co-founder Greg Schmalz said a “critical” issue is the province’s Class 2 designation of the UNIFOR turbine, allowing nighttime noise levels of 45 decibels. A Class 3 rating limits noise noise levels to 40 dB.
He argued the Class 2 designation of the turbine, located in Gobles Grove, a small community with fewer than 1,000 people, in a rural recreational/agricultural area, without any “urban hum,” is incorrect. Schmalz said with the right classification “the CAW [UNIFOR] turbine could never have been built,” as noise modelling predicted levels over 40 dB. Gobles Grove has 583 residents, according to the Town, well below the 1,000 population required for a Class two designation.
Schmalz added that at a meeting Feb. 3 with MOECC officials and the Town – a meeting UNIFOR declined to attend – the MOECC dismissed UNIFOR’s test results from April, 2014, showing noise levels 14 dB above the 45 dB limit, saying they were caused by natural background noise, and did not justify making UNIFOR’s voluntary testing, mandatory.
“The whole thing is a shell game, fraught with disaster,” Schmalz said, urging residents, who now believe it may be futile, to continue filing noise complaints with the MOECC.
After being thanked by Mayor Smith for his efforts and perseverance, Schmalz said, “Not doing anything, is not an option.”
The motion passed by Council, with no dissent, asked UNIFOR to inform the public of testing dates; advise the pubic of any turbine operation changes to complete the testing, and make the test results available to the Town and public as soon as they are available.
It also asks the MOECC to request UNIFOR make the test results public; to inform the public of its conclusions about compliance, and if the acoustic audit results are not received by the MOECC by Sept. 1, 2016, direct UNIFOR to do mandatory testing.
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