by Pieter van Hiel, Niagara This Week
“You’ll have to devote the rest of your days to fighting these, if you allow them to get here in there first place.” That was the message retired schoolteacher and Green Party candidate Stephana Johnston had for West Lincoln residents last Wednesday, at a public information meeting on the alleged negative effects of industrial wind turbines.
Five large wind power turbines are scheduled to be built in West Lincoln in May 2011. More than 450 residents packed the gymnasium of Caistor Centre School for the meeting, which was organization by the newly formed West Lincoln Wind Action Group.
Neil Switzer, the chair of the wind action group, opened the information session. He said he was pleased to see such a large crowd. “I can see we are all concerned, and we are all looking for answers…basically, the whole community is together,” said Switzer.
While wind power is generally accepted to be a clean form of energy production, critics claim the health effects of turbines on nearby residents have not been properly studied. They also point to the lack of democratic representation in the construction process. Under Ontario’s Green Energy Act, municipalities have no direct control over zoning or construction approval of industrial wind turbines.
“I believe it is time for all citizens to seriously wake up to the direction that Ontario is headed with legislation like the Ontario Green Energy Act,” Switzer told the crowd. “The industrial wind turbine industry can only flourish in an environment where there is a lack of knowledge and ignorance about the true impact and cost of industrial wind turbines. That is why we are here tonight, folks. To get informed, to get educated.”
The keynote speaker for the evening was Carmen Krough, a retired pharmacist, who presented a number of case studies and anecdotes from people around the world living near wind turbines. “Their lives have been changed dramatically and there does not seem to be any mitigation taking place, internationally,” she said.
Krough said the vibrations and low-frequency noise caused by the turbines were primary source of complaints. “Turbine noise you hear, but we also have a sub-level noise. Even though you may not hear it, it does affect the body, physically,” she said.
Krough presented excerpts from reports that listed potential health risks associated with living next to a turbine. These were primarily linked to stress caused by the noise and vibration of operation, and included symptoms such as persistent insomnia, anxiety, and headaches. “Even moderate indirect noise can cause physical symptoms,” she said. Krough claims these health effects are downplayed by the province and wind power firms, who describe them as “annoyance.” Krough said this term diminished the real health impacts experienced by many, and said there was a lack of information about safe placement of the turbines.
“The authoritative and peer-reviewed evidence cannot deny that there is a risk to health. What we don’t know right now is, where’s the safe distance? Where’s the safe noise level? The human health studies haven’t been performed yet to demonstrate safe siting,” said Krough.
The audience then heard from Stephana Johnston, a retired schoolteacher from Long Point. Johnston, 80, is also a former Green Party candidate for Norfolk. Johnston lives within three kilometres of 18 industrial wind power turbines. She spoke on her own experiences living near them. “The first thing that happened was that I had a stuffy feeling in my ears,” she said. An appointment with an audiologist confirmed a mild hearing loss, but also suggested a cause for the sudden onset of the “stuffy feeling.”
“He had the courage to tell me that the stuffed feeling was very likely being caused by the industrial wind turbines,” said Johnston. She also developed insomnia and a buzzing sensation in her head. “I’d wake up in the morning, and I was as tired as when I went to bed,” she said.
Johnston said the effect of the insomnia drove her to great lengths. “I rented an apartment 50 kilometres away from my home with some help from friends… for six months I was able to sleep away from my home, and I felt rested. I felt ready to take on the world. But whenever I got into the industrial wind turbine zone, I started to feel the effects, and the buzzing in my head,” she said.
After six months, Johnston could no longer afford the apartment. Since then, she has moved into a trailer on her son’s property, 16 kilometres north of the turbines.
Johnston called upon her audience to work hard to prevent the construction of the turbines. “Talk to your councillors, talk to your members of parliament. Do everything you possibly can. Whatever you can do, do it, to prevent these wind turbines from surrounding your homes. I’ve lost my home, the savings I amassed working a lifetime. My home is no longer the place of refuge that you’d think an 80-year-old could go and have a life. I have only an existence,” she said.
The final speaker of the evening was David Colling, a retired dairy farmer from near Kincardine, where 38 turbines are in operation. Colling, who also has some training as an electrical engineer, spoke on the danger of electrical pollution. He said he was initially skeptical of the health effects of turbines. “I never ever thought, two years ago, that I’d be travelling across Ontario and talking to people about the negative effects of wind turbines,” he said. Colling claimed that turbines produced electromagnetic fields that might have negative health effects for “electrically sensitive” people.
Cam Pritchard, head of communications for the wind action group, said he was happy with the turnout. “We had a good discussion that went on for about an hour. People were unaware of what was happening.” He said he hoped that more residents would become aware of the issue. “They don’t understand the impact and size. It’s still something we have to get out more,” he said.
West Lincoln’s council shares the action group’s concerns. On Oct. 4, the township council passed a motion asking for a moratorium on local turbine construction until health impact studies have been completed. They also gave the action group permission to deposit an information binder in all West Lincoln libraries.