Southwestern Ontario wind turbine opponents took to the courtroom again Tuesday in a new bid to change how Ontario deals with neighbours’ health concerns about wind energy.
Fighting against what they call a “tainted” provincial process, critics argued they don’t have the resources to prove industrial wind turbines are harmful and said wind developers should instead have to prove they are safe.
Tuesday’s proceeding, in front of a panel of three judges of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, centred on dense legal arguments about whether previous provincial approvals and endorsements of wind farms in Grey County and Plympton-Wyoming should be allowed to stand.
At the heart of the case, though, is opponents’ belief the turbines pose a human and environmental health hazard.
Other appeals – none has succeeded so far – have challenged various provisions of the Green Energy Act – legislation that plunged Ontario’s Liberal government headlong into wind energy – on environmental, zoning and jurisdiction grounds.
“We’re all trying different strategies to slay the dragon,” said Elizabeth Bellavance, a member of the WAIT-PW (We’re Against Industrial Turbines – Plympton-Wyoming) citizens’ group from Lambton County.
Home to the province’s largest wind farms and the largest number of wind turbines, Southwestern Ontario has been a frequent flashpoint in battles over the highrise-sized power generators. Many communities complained when the province took away their control over where the turbines can be built.
One Elgin County township that voted against it recently found out it’s getting a wind farm anyway under new provincial rules to bid on the contracts that are supposed to take community support into consideration.
The Suncor Cedar project in Plympton-Wyoming is already built, its 46 turbines starting to feed electricity into the power grid last October.
The court heard the Bryce family, named in the appeal, have “a myriad of health issues” they fear are exacerbated by the eight turbines within a 2.5-kilometre radius of their Camlachie-area home.
The Capstone project in Grey Highlands is a plan to build nine turbines in a rural area south of Collingwood.
Both projects were approved, then appealed to the Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) and both have since been appealed to the courts.
Tuesday’s argument by Falconers LLP lawyers was that the ERT made a legal error that misinterpreted an earlier Superior Court ruling.
To Gary Fohr, though, the bottom line is that Ontario’s Green Energy Act favours wind proponents and places undue burden on neighbours and municipalities to prove the turbines are harmful.
“In other industries, it is the opposite. The (medicinal) drug industry has to prove their product is safe. The auto industry has to prove their product is safe. In this instance, where is the proof that turbines are safe?” asked Fohr, leading the appeal for Grey Highlands Wind Concerns group.
An electrical contractor who installs solar panels, Fohr said he’s in favour of responsible green energy. He echoed a common refrain among rural Southwestern Ontarians, where the bulk of the province’s 6,000-plus turbines are located: Decisions are being made by and for the “Province of Toronto,” he said.
“They cancelled two gas plants and then littered our area with these things,” he said, referencing Liberals’ cancellation of two unpopular gas-fired power plants in the Toronto area in the run-up to a provincial election at a cost of more than $1 billion.
The province can halt a turbine project if there’s proof of harm to people or wildlife.
Fohr’s lawyer, Asha James, said just because appellants haven’t been able to prove turbines cause health problems – scientific studies haven’t been designed that way, she said – there are no studies that offer proof there is no harm.
The Grey Highlands and Plympton-Wyoming wind opponents say that should instead be the test of whether turbines should be allowed.
But lawyer Andrea Huckins, representing the province, said sending this back to the director of environmental approvals – whose decision could then be appealable to the ERT, which then might lead to another appeal to the director or to the courts – would amount to an absurd “circular process.”
No decision has been made on the appeal.