Essex County wind turbine opponents beg to differ

By Sonja Puzic 

The province’s top doctor has concluded that living near a wind turbine is not dangerous to your health, but some Essex County residents are not convinced as opposition to wind energy projects persists in the region.

A report released last week by Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Arlene King, says there is no scientific evidence directly linking wind turbines to health problems. The report is a summary of existing evidence on the subject, prepared in consultation with the Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and the Council of Ontario Medical Officers of Health.

King’s report concludes that while wind turbine noise may be “annoying” to some people, there is no scientific proof it causes hearing problems, headaches and dizziness, as has been reported. There is also no evidence that low frequency sound, or infrasound, emitted by the turbines contributes to adverse health effects, the report says, pointing out that infrasound is everywhere in the environment, from road and air traffic to water and wind.

But critics say King’s report simply rehashes old studies and doesn’t give weight to complaints from more than 100 people across Ontario who’ve blamed wind turbines on everything from dizzy spells and nausea to hearing loss and heart attacks.

“I’m very, very disappointed in her report,” said Maureen Anderson, an Amherstburg resident involved with the Essex County Wind Action Group. “(King) never talked to any victims. The report didn’t investigate their complaints. The bottom line is, every study says more definite research is needed.”

King’s report, welcomed by the Canadian Wind Energy Association, looked at papers and studies on wind turbines dating back to 1970. It also considered complaints and concerns about electromagnetic fields surrounding wind turbines, shadow flicker and the risk of ice falling from the turbine blades in winter.

The report says papers published in peer-reviewed scientific journals and studies approved by recognized health authorities “carry more weight” than case studies and anecdotal reports. But Ministry of Health spokesman Andrew Morrison said the government is not done studying and researching the issues surrounding wind turbines. He said the position of a research chair in renewable energy technologies and health was recently funded for five years to look at potential health impacts.

Essex Town Coun. Ron Rogers, who in 2008 proposed a ban on wind turbine projects in the municipality until all health concerns raised by residents were addressed, said the government has an obligation to hear people out and definitively disprove or validate their claims before more wind turbines get the green light.

“Whether (the health effects) are physical or psychological…they need to talk to people who are suffering now,” he said. “And even if it’s just psychological — psychological ailments are real. It’s an issue that needs to be taken care of.”

The Ontario Power Authority recently approved 20-year contracts for the two biggest wind turbine projects in Essex County: Brookfield Renewable Power’s 165-megawatt project in Lakeshore near Comber and International Power Canada’s 48.6-megawatt project around Stoney Point. Other wind projects have been put forward, including SouthPoint Wind’s controversial 715 proposed turbines in Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair.

Rogers pointed out that Ministry of Environment officials admitted this week at an Amherstburg meeting they can’t measure noise created by industrial wind turbines, even though they are supposed to enforce a noise standard.

“A lot of residents are going to have a great deal of concern over that,” he said.