During her cross-examination, Concern Citizens' lawyer Kathleen Coulter sought – with some success – to demonstrate the limitations of the monitoring system and that EDP had been dismissive when responding to the concerns raised by residents during the planning process. She pressed Little to admit the meteorological data the monitoring system relies on to predict things like ice build-up could be inaccurate and that without a person stationed at the wind farm 24/7, if there was ever an emergency like a fire, first responders would show up before someone was EDP was there to assist them.
The proponents of the Nation Rise wind farm project called their own witnesses and experts to counter the Concerned Citizens of South Stormont on the third day of an Environmental Review Tribunal hearing.
The hearing is examing whether a renewable energy approval given to the Nation Rise Wind Farm in North Stormont by the Ministry of the Environment should be revoked because the project would cause serious harm to human health, plant and animal life.
The company behind the Nation Rise project, EDP Renewables, called witnesses on Wednesday morning to explain the wind farm’s proposed safety features and to counter the claims made by residents that the turbines posed dangers to their health. The lawyer for the Concerned Citizens group cross-examined each witness, trying to poke holes in those assurances.
EDP chief project supervisor Kenneth Little explained the wind farm would have multiple levels of monitoring to guard against any safety problems. Each turbine would be covered with sensors that will transmit to both an EDP employee who will be stationed in North Stormont, and also to a remote monitoring centre – both of which would have the ability to shut down the windmills. On top of that, the company also plans to use the data coming from the sensors to predict problems before they occur.
“With our predictive diagnostics team, we will watch for alarms and other conditions in the data from the turbines that might be a predictive pattern. We also have algorithms that will look conditions that need proactive maintenance,” said Little.
During her cross-examination, Concern Citizens’ lawyer Kathleen Coulter sought – with some success – to demonstrate the limitations of the monitoring system and that EDP had been dismissive when responding to the concerns raised by residents during the planning process.
She pressed Little to admit the meteorological data the monitoring system relies on to predict things like ice build-up could be inaccurate and that without a person stationed at the wind farm 24/7, if there was ever an emergency like a fire, first responders would show up before someone was EDP was there to assist them. Little responded instruments on the turbines would monitor the weather directly, and if first responders did arrive first, the remote monitoring centre would still be able to assist them.
Coulter also pushed Little on how the company has relied on satellite and aerial photography, instead of on-the-ground surveys, when locating groundwater wells in the area and in deciding how far back turbines would be from homes. Little noted professional surveys of both those things would be conducted before construction begins.
She also pressed the project supervisor to admit EDP had not adequately responded to most of the concerns put forward by property owners near the windmills during the consultation process. Little said action was taken on some of the more easily resolved concerns, such as service road placement.
“In the development and setting of infrastructure and locations, there have been instances where we have worked to make sure we are addressing some of those concerns. But I can’t say we have addressed all the concerns,” he said.
The second witness on Wednesday morning was Dr. Robert McCunney, who is a medical expert on the health effects caused by exposure to nearby industrial projects. On top of being a clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School, a biological engineering researcher at MIT and a pulmonary physician at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Mass., McCunney was also part of a panel of academics asked by both the American and Canadian Wind Power Associations to do a study on whether there was a causal link between noise from wind turbines and health problems in humans.
Concerns about the noise from the wind farm, both audible and inaudible, are often raised up by opponents of wind power projects and this appeal has been no exception. Several residents who testified over the first two days of the hearing said they fear they, their children or livestock would be harmed by the noise.
McCunney’s panel did a literature review of 100 academic papers on the subject and concluded there is no scientific evidence to back up these fears. The doctor pointed out that an even more recent study conducted by Health Canada had arrived at the same conclusion after studying more than 1,600 residents who live near wind turbines.
“In my view, based on the documents I have reviewed and my view of the scientific literature, the (Nation Rise Wind Farm) project – if operated in accordance (with) the renewable energy approval – will not cause serious harm to human health,” said McCunney.
During the first two days of testimony, residents said they worried the noise could aggravate their tinnitus, disrupt sleep patterns, worsen symptoms of multiple sclerosis, cause heart conditions or cancer, impact children with hearing sensitivities and more. Counsel for EDP walked McCunney through every one of the medical concerns raised individually. After pointing out he had not treated any of the residents or seen their medical records, the doctor refuted the windmills could cause any of those outcomes.
During cross-examination, Coulter appeared to struggle to find cracks in McCunney’s credibility as a witness. She made the case that although he is a medical doctor, he is not a specialist in all of the diseases he said would not be caused or worsened by turbine noise. He is, however, a specialist in occupational health, which makes him an expert in conditions caused by exposure to industrial projects.
She tried to suggest he was a paid stooge for the wind power industry, that his training was out of date, and zeroed in on typos in his written statement to suggest his findings might be riddled with more mistakes. Although things got a little heated, none of these attacks landed convincingly; with McCunney swiping them aside with ready explanations or refusing to take the bait.
Finally, Coulter asked him whether he could point to any evidence that would conclusively prove there are no health conditions caused by windmill noise. McCunney replied that it is impossible to prove a negative.
“For example, if you were asked to prove there are no ghosts, or to prove there is no heaven, you couldn’t do it. So the manner in which you pose the question is impossible to answer,” he said.
The hearing is scheduled to continue through to Aug. 2.
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