Public wants moratorium on wind turbines

One person in the crowd of over 100 people seemed to echo the general feeling of those present when she told Dr. Hazel Lynn, medical officer of health, “You are the first government-connected person who’s listened to us.”  The comment was greeted with applause from the crowd, a number of whom were from well outside the area.

The Walkerton Herald Times

The answer is blowing in the wind, at least for the provincial government.  Local residents aren’t so sure, if a meeting held last week in Walkerton is any indication. And now they’re getting backing from MPP Bill Murdoch, who announced he plans to ask for a moratorium on wind turbines until health impacts are looked at.

The province’s Green Energy Act, passed on May 14 of this year, streamlines the approval process for wind turbine projects. The provincial government is committed to eliminating its coal operated electrical generating plants, and promoting green energy projects is a key part of the plan to make that happen.

There are already two large-scale wind turbine projects in Bruce County, one near Underwood and the other near Ripley. Other projects are planned for both Bruce and Grey.   A substantial number of people living in close proximity to the new wind farms popping up across the province are expressing health concerns, prompting the Grey Bruce Health Unit to hold two public meetings on the wind farm issue. One meeting was in Owen Sound and the other in Walkerton.

The Walkerton meeting at the Victoria Jubilee Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 6 was considerably more subdued than the first meeting in Owen Sound, but the frustration level of the people present for the meeting was apparent.

One person in the crowd of over 100 people seemed to echo the general feeling of those present when she told Dr. Hazel Lynn, medical officer of health, “You are the first government-connected person who’s listened to us.”  The comment was greeted with applause from the crowd, a number of whom were from well outside the area.

Dr. Lynn told the audience  that while health units do not have the power to take action against the wind turbines, the local health unit is prepared to take the issue to the government. “Rural communities are resilient and inventive,” she said. “We need to work together on this problem.”

The purpose of the Walkerton meeting was to provide information about wind turbines to those who wanted it, and to gather information to take to the government. It also gave people an opportunity to vent their frustration. As with the earlier meeting, there was certainly plenty of it.

The first part of the forum consisted of presentations by keynote speaker Dr. Ray Copes, Dr. Lynn, and Ministry of the Environment representative Rick Chappell. Also on hand was Andrew Barton of the MOE.  

During the second part of the meeting, people from the audience were given the opportunity to ask questions to the speakers, and to state their concerns. People were asked to state their views on “what they would change with wind industry regulations” under three headings – community, industry and government. Comments were written on flip charts.

Lynn opened by describing the health unit’s involvement in the wind turbine issue. “Legislation obliges the health unit to investigate complaints and take those complaints to the appropriate government office,” she said.

Next to speak was Chappell, district manager for the MOE’s Grey, Bruce and Huron office. He gave a brief overview of the investigation process.

Copes then gave a scaled-down version of the talk he gave in Owen Sound, this time without the slide presentation.

Copes has been with the Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion for three months. Prior to that, he served at the federal level.

The wind turbine issue is new, he said. In 2005-2006, public health units identified water as the key concern, along with food. “There was no mention of wind turbines,” he said. Health units were resurveyed in 2008-2009, and while water and food were still concerns, so were wind turbines.

He noted that the concerns are “10 times higher in Ontario” than elsewhere and suggested the reason was Ontario’s “aggressive” wind turbine program, and the fact that “local processes are not part of the decision making.”

Items looked at in relation to wind turbines were noise (and vibration), electromagnetic fields, shadow flicker as a possible cause of epileptic seizures, mechanical failure and icing, and health and safety.

He noted the most common health complaints are headaches and sleep disturbances. “It’s a well established phenomenon,” Copes said, adding it isn’t just a matter of how loud the noise is, but the quality and nature of the sound, described by one woman in the crowd as a “whump-whump-whump – that’s not a normal sound.”

Among the issues identified as of greatest concern by the speakers and the audience members included: Is a setback of 550 metres enough? Some areas are looking at setbacks of a kilometre-and-a-half, or two kms. In a rural area, the house may be outside the 550-metre setback, but outbuildings and fields where farmers work all day could be much closer.

Harvey Wrightman, of Kerwood, said people in his area are angry – wind turbines are going to be put up near a school.  

Most of those at the meeting seemed to agree that a moratorium on wind turbines is needed until research can be done on the health issues. Carmen Krogh, a retired pharmacist, is part of a group called WindVOICE©, a victim support group. There are almost 100 people sick, she said, and some are children. “They are the canaries in the coal mine,” Krogh said.

Formosa resident Melissa Nichols said she’s in favour of green energy. “But we need to the research first,” she said.

Many of those at the meeting – including the speakers – said they would like to see some sort of third-party investigation done.

The number of wind turbines in an area is one issue that interests Dr. Lynn. Many of the European projects have only two or three in the array, while the wind farms in Ontario have a dozen or more. Also of interest is the size of the turbines.

Gag orders were contentious for a number of people – many complained that those who have wind turbines on their land are not allowed to speak out about any health problems they’re having.

Dr. Lynn said the cost of the turbines compared to the electricity produced and the health risks associated with them, make this a “very expensive way to generate energy. I’d like a review of the cost effectiveness of wind turbines.”

Lack of local input was a common complaint.

 “It’s nice of you to hold this meeting, but Dalton McGuinty isn’t listening. People don’t want the darned things,” said Arran-Elderslie Coun. Mark Davis.

Lack of government and wind turbine industry response seemed to be a common complaint. Most of those in the room want answers, and they aren’t getting them they said.