London Free Press Sun, February 1, 2009
By JOHN MINER, SUN MEDIA
When London surgeon Robert McMurtry decided to build a house, he wanted to go green – geothermal heating, solar panels for hot water and a wind turbine for electricity.
But when he started reading about wind turbines, the former dean of medicine at the University of Western Ontario said he had a change of heart.
“I thought, ‘Holy Toledo, there are some issues here.’ “
Dozens of wind turbines have already been built or proposed in Southwestern Ontario, as Queen’s Park tries to wean Ontario off dirty coal-fired electricity plants and reduce its reliance on nuclear power.
McMurtry is calling for health studies into the wind turbine farms popping up across Ontario with backing by the provincial government. With towers nearly 100 metres tall, and blades half that long, the turbines can be an imposing sight, even from afar.
“At minimum, they should be doing a survey of people around wind farms and getting a sense of how many people are complaining of problems,” he said.
“If there is enough evidence, they should mount a formal epidemiological study,” McMurtry said.
In the U.S. and Western Europe especially, where wind farms are more advanced than in Canada, complaints abound about the low-frequency sound the giant windmills generate.
In Canada, Ontario is one of the only provinces with any regulations governing wind farms, requiring a noise-impact assessment for areas up to 1,000 metres from the wind turbine.
McMurtry is concerned about the health complaints he’s heard from people living near wind farms, including sleep disturbance from the noise of the giant turbine blades.
“Once you have sleep disturbance for a few days, you aren’t going to be feeling well,” he said.
Last week, the province announced it’s backing six new wind farm projects, including three in Chatham-Kent, that are expected to create 558 jobs.
Total investment in the new farms is expected to reach $1.32 billion.
McMurtry, who has taken his concerns to Ontario Energy Minister George Smitherman, said it’s going to be an uphill battle to convince people to look hard at the health implications because turbines have become closely associated with green energy.
“It has got an iconic, symbolic status that really carries a lot of weight and there is a very powerful, worldwide lobby group behind it,” he said.
McMurtry said turbines smaller than the ones being installed may be better than the monsters now going up.
“Harness the wind safely. Let’s look at other alternatives. There are better, smarter options,” he added.
Monica Elmes, of the Chatham-Kent Wind Action Group, an organization opposed to the wind farms, said the turbines will be an unreliable, intermittent source of electricity and a waste of taxpayers’ money.
“All Ontario residents are truly the losers in this scam,” Elmes said in an e-mail.
John Miner is the Free Press health reporter.